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Down to Earth

Could thawing permafrost unleash long-gone deadly viruses?

In the remote town of Longyearbyen, in Norway’s Arctic region, the ground is permanently frozen. As temperatures rise, the thawing permafrost could open a Pandora's box, with unpredictable consequences. The Down to Earth team reports.

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It may look pristine and barren, but the permafrost is not void of life. On the contrary, there is a world of organisms living in it. The permafrost is, in fact, a massive freezer. It’s cold, dark, and there’s not much oxygen. In other words, it's the ideal place for bacteria and viruses to survive intact for thousands of years. But the permafrost may not remain frozen for much longer. According to scientists, the Arctic soil’s temperature has already increased by up to one degree Celsius.

So could thawing permafrost unleash long-gone deadly viruses? And how dangerous could this be? The Down to Earth team travelled to the town to Longyearbyen in Norway to find out.

This report was produced with the support of Norwegian.

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