As the world warms up, ice sheets and glaciers are melting, releasing trapped viruses that have been frozen for hundreds of thousands?perhaps even millions?of years. Are any of them dangerous?

The Independent (UK) newspaper reports that during the freezing process, glaciers incoporate nearby fungi, bacteria and viruses, many of which remain alive, in a state of suspended animation. Since these ice sheets are melting quickly, a whole new group of viruses is about to be released into the world, recreating ancient illnesses. Diseases we thought we had eradicated, like polio and smallpox, could reappear. A new type of flu virus could emerge which, in combination with the rapidly spreading avian flu virus, could mean a deadly future for human beings. As microbes thaw out and reenter our world, they can affect fish, animals and plants as well. If a microbe attacks something low down on the food chain, like plankton, it could lead to starvation for higher animals and for us.

In 1999, climate researcher Scott Rogers found a virus called ToMV in 17 ice-core sections, hidden deep inside the Greenland ice pack. The virus had survived being frozen in ice for 140,000 years. Since then, he’s found many other frozen viruses in ice cores from Greenland, Siberia and Antarctica. Last year, Rogers found flu virus frozen in ice on a lake in Siberia. Flu viruses mutate every year, and our immune systems have to struggle to keep up with these changes. A sudden release of an older flu virus could be devastating.

There’s only one thing we know for sure: the future will be much different than anything we could ever have imagined. The only thing we know for sure is that things keep changing. Whitley was lucky?he met a strange little man who told him all about it. If you want to learn everything that?s worth knowing, tune into Dreamland radio every week. We?re the biggest radio broadcast on the web by far, with more listeners than many “regular” radio shows. And if you want us to be here for you in the future, subscribe today.

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