Mon, Feb 20, 2017 | updated 12:30 AM IST

Melting ice sheet could unearth Cold War-era hazardous waste

Updated: Aug 05, 2016 13:26 IST

Washington D.C, Aug 5 (ANI): Thought to be frozen in time, the Cold War memories may soon find their way back to the world.

Climate change is threatening to expose hazardous waste at an abandoned camp thought to be buried forever in the Greenland Ice Sheet, a new research out of York University has found.

Camp Century, a United States military base built within the Greenland ice sheet in 1959, doubled as a top-secret site for testing the feasibility of deploying nuclear missiles from the Arctic during the Cold War. When the camp was decommissioned in 1967, its infrastructure and waste were abandoned under the assumption they would be entombed forever by perpetual snowfall.

"Two generations ago, people were interring waste in different areas of the world, and now climate change is modifying those sites," said lead author William Colgan. "It's a new breed of climate change challenge we have to think about."

The study's team took an inventory of the wastes at Camp Century and ran climate model simulations. The researchers also analyzed historical US army engineering documents to determine where and how deep the wastes were buried and how much that part of the ice cap had moved since the 1960s. They found the waste at Camp Century covers 55 hectares, roughly the size of 100 football fields.

They estimate the site contains 200,000 litres of diesel fuel, enough for a car to circle the globe 80 times, and 240,000 litres of waste water, including sewage. Based on building materials used in the Arctic at the time, the authors speculate the site contains polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), pollutants toxic to human health, along with an unknown volume of low-level radioactive coolant from the nuclear generator.

Camp Century's waste presents a non-trivial environmental hazard, said Colgan. When the ice melts, pollutants could be transported to the ocean, where they could disrupt marine ecosystems.

The study is published in journal Geophysical Research Letters. (ANI)

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