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The melting of Arctic sea ice is now a cause for serious concern because the resulting changes in ocean circulation and other indirect effects associated with extreme weather conditions contribute to the narrative of the climate crisis. Now, according to a new study published in the journal Nature, a deadly virus that is spread by marine mammals such as otters and sea lions can be linked to the increased melting of sea ice due to climate change.
While the melting of sea ice is a natural phenomenon that occurs in summer, a warmer planet for a long time means that this phase of the sea ice life cycle is extended. The melting of sea ice is also important for polar ecosystems, because the release of nutrients from ice into water acts as a stimulus for phytoplankton – the basic basis of the marine food chain – which enables them to grow faster and reproduce. However, the continuous and prolonged periods of melting sea ice can have devastating effects throughout the planet.
This is because the impact of sea ice on Earth extends beyond the periphery of the ocean, because the surface of the sea ice reflects sunlight back into space, stabilizing global temperatures that affect the global climate. So reducing sea ice also means rising global temperatures and a greater likelihood of extreme weather events. Furthermore, this climate change is currently causing the abovementioned phocine dystemperator virus (PDV) to spread to marine mammals.
The study, which was carried out over 15 years, covered 2,500 marine mammals at various locations by satellite. Researchers found that soaring PDV deadly coincided with years in which Arctic sea ice had melted enough for mammals to move from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Researchers said an intensive PDV epidemic in 2003 and 2004. Among marine mammals in the North Pacific correlated with record ice melting in August 2002 – at a time when more than 30% of North Pacific Steller sea lions were positive for the virus .
In an interview with BBC news, the lead author of the article Dr. Tracey Goldstein said: "The loss of sea ice leads wild marine life to seek and forage in new habitats and remove this physical barrier, enabling them to move." This new and increased traffic allows for more transmission options, "A new infectious disease with potentially destructive effects", between species, Goldstein added.
According to the IPCC report, sea ice drops by an average of 12.8 percent, and the results mean that previously impassable "sea routes" between the Atlantic and Pacific regions are now open after thousands of years. Furthermore, the planet has reached a critical point at which the devastating effects of climate change can no longer be ignored. This year alone, there was a significant melting of ice in the Arctic region, because according to reports Greenland experienced a melting of 12.5 billion tonnes of ice in one day.
Because ice is also melting in other areas, including Iceland's mountain glaciers, as a result of man-made climate change, coastal populations and entire ecosystems are now also seriously threatened. The IPCC report states "These changes in sea ice in September are probably unprecedented for at least 1,000 years … Arctic sea ice has thinned, along with the transition to younger ice. Between 1979 and 2018, the real percentage of perennial ice, which is at least five years old, fell by around 90%. "
Researchers in this study believe that the spread of pathogens can increase and become more common as the ice melts. Researchers also found that there is also additional potential for mutating viruses and affecting more species.