Jun 15, 2019 | Updated: 11:54 AM EDT

Radioactive Fallout Have Been Frozen in Glaciers Which Are Now Melting

Apr 13, 2019 07:56 AM EDT

Melting Glaciers
(Photo : Free-Photos)

It is no secret that the sea levels are rising because the planet is getting warmer and now the glaciers are melting into the oceans. Aside from the shrinking shoreline and the rising temperature of the waters that caused wildlife migration, there is another possibility that scientists are now looking into.

According to new research, the presence of nuclear material in glaciers have been detected from ice cores sampled from different glacier sites. The ice surface sediment called cryoconite were found to have fallout radionuclides (FRN) buried within it. This is true for all 17 glacier sites including Arctic, Iceland, the European Alps, Antarctica, and other locations. Some of the samples analyzed were seen to have a higher concentration of FRNs. These said samples are from areas with glaciers.

The study postulates that climate change has another unwanted and grim consequence which is the re-release of radioactive material from nuclear disaster fallouts such as those from Chernobyl and Fukushima. 

Caroline Clason, from the University of Plymouth in the UK and member of the team, pointed out that nuclear accidents have been previously analyzed for effects on human and ecosystem health in non-glaciated areas. However, their team found evidence supporting that cryoconite on glaciers can efficiently accumulate radionuclides that could result in levels that are deemed hazardous.

Among the dangerous radioactive materials found in the study are caesium and americium. Samples from the Morteratsch glacier in Switzerland have 13,558 Becquerel per kilogram caesium-137. For reference, the meat consumed by humans only had 1,500 Becquerel per kilogram.

Sampled ice cores showed spikes that represent the impact of Chernobyl, Fukushima, and large-scale weapons testing (the 1950s to 1960s.) Clason explained that radioactive particles are very lightweight that they could be carried to different locations via the atmosphere. FRN that falls as rain can be washed away. However, if it falls as snow, it will stay trapped in ice for decades.

One of the goals that the research has is to determine how the FRNs could possible and eventually contaminate the environment, impacting the food chain once the ice trapping is has melted and it is re-released. Clason explains the importance if their research as an early warning to communities that leave in glacial areas or the communities that inhabit areas that are downstream of the melting glaciers. In addition, the said communities should be made aware that they might have to face some unforeseen problems in the future.

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