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Strange Sight Uncovered Beneath Alaska Could Have Destructive Consequences

Oct 14, 2021

Image: Alaska regions -
It’s easy to overlook Alaska according to Not only is the state isolated between western Canada and eastern Russia, but it’s pretty empty, with just over 700,000 residents spread across over 650,000 square miles. But unbeknownst to those Alaskans, there’s something sinister brewing beneath the picturesque wilderness that has scientists seriously concerned for all residents living within its borders.
If you head out into the Alaskan wilderness, you’ll find expansive sheets of ice and massive glaciers. But that’s not all that’s out there; beneath the ground, scientists have uncovered a chilling detail that could spell doom for thousands.
Many areas of Alaska are home to permafrost; as its name suggests, the ground is permanently frozen solid. It might not sound exciting, but it’s an important part of the landscape.
Ice, whether it’s under the ground or on top of the water, needs cold temperatures to remain frozen. In recent years, however, Alaska’s climate has been causing some new issues.
Due to global warming, temperatures all over the world have become more extreme. In Alaska, for example, warm summers have increased the rate of glacial melting. That’s dangerous for a few reasons.
Melting glaciers will eventually raise the sea level, flooding coastal cities. But scientists were also afraid that global warming would destabilize another part of the environment. They came up with a new way to monitor the changes.
Outside of Fairbanks, Alaska, there is a tunnel cut deep into the Earth’s surface. It’s not for transportation, however; it’s actually a scientific complex called the Permafrost Tunnel Research Facility.
The tunnel provided scientists with an opportunity to study Alaska’s frozen soil. Unfortunately, in recent years, it also gave them a firsthand look at the dangerous effects of global warming.
In recent years, scientists noticed the permafrost was starting to thaw. That could be a death sentence for most of Alaska’s urban centers and infrastructure due to one crucial factor.
If the ground is no longer frozen solid, Alaska’s major cities no longer have a sturdy foundation. And, as any architect can tell you, nothing lasts for very long without a strong base.
But melting permafrost is also damaging the natural landscape in a more visible way. While the phenomenon isn’t immediately terrifying, it definitely suggests some scary possibilities if global warming continues unchecked.
Strange pockmarks have started forming above the melting permafrost. While it’s currently more of an eyesore than anything else, it’s not hard to imagine a giant sinkhole opening up below a city or highway.
But Alaskan climate scientists have also noticed something else contained inside the ice. While the discovery is physically small, they believe it could have a huge impact on the entire planet.
Alaska’s glaciers and permafrost contain the preserved remains of countless prehistoric creatures. And while it’s undeniably awesome to find the frozen body of a woolly mammoth, the latest discovery was much more threatening.
Scientists had removed an ice core from the permafrost in order to study its composition when they noticed something unusual. The sample, it seemed, contained a frozen colony of ancient bacteria.
Once defrosted, the bacteria came back to life. While that was an impressive scientific discovery, the scientists also made an ominous observation, too. The bacteria could end human life as we knew it…
As the bacteria ate, they produced methane. The gas isn’t completely harmless, though; it is actually an incredibly potent greenhouse gas, which traps more of the sun’s heat than carbon dioxide.
In short, global warming will release more and more of the ancient bacteria. Those microbes will produce methane which, in turn, will increase the speed at which Earth heats up.
It’s a vicious cycle that could accelerate the rate of our very destruction. Thankfully, the scientists have also found a potential silver lining that lets them use the loss of permafrost to humanity’s advantage.
Once permafrost melts, that ground is capable of sustaining plant life. If that newly accessible land is filled with trees, their carbon dioxide consumption could help offset the increased methane in the atmosphere.
Global warming is a dangerous phenomenon that is currently affecting the entire planet. In Australia, however, scientists have found a unique assistant to help in their desperate fight against climate change.
As the largest reef system in the world, the Great Barrier Reef is a natural wonder, home to thousands of species. Tragically, though it is an essential part of our global environment, it is slipping away more and more each day.
Global warming poses the biggest threat to the reef. As the Earth’s temperature climbs, many of the organisms there simply cannot survive. The implications are bigger than almost anyone can imagine.
The most visible side effect of the heat is coral bleaching. Unfavorable temperatures force the coral to shoot off the algae that sticks to it and helps keep it alive. While the bleaching looks chillingly beautiful, it results in nothing but mass death.
Before long, the coral dies along with most of the ecosystem. Scientists discovered that over half of the Great Barrier Reef is now decimated. Though modern technology is largely to blame, some machines are fighting this dangerous trend.
Roboticist Matthew Dunbabin, left, unveiled a plan to start making the Great Barrier Reef a safer place for coral. He proposed that they start small and target one of the nastiest natural threats under the sea.
Unlike other dwindling species, the crown-of-thorns starfish was doing just fine. The venomous animals feast on the coral and rapidly multiply, becoming one of the few reef populations to actually grow.
Thanks to a $750,000 grant, Matthew developed a means of keeping these vicious predators at bay. In 2014, he proudly debuted the RangerBot, an underwater android that looks like a toy submarine. However, it’s anything but a toy.
RangerBot’s computer can easily identify crown-of-thorns starfish from a distance, but it also packs a punch. Months earlier, scientists learned that certain types of mammal bile are poisonous to these reef predators.
So, Matthew loaded RangerBot with the bile and equipped it with an extendable needle. Once it located a starfish, the robot could inject the serum into each of its twenty arms.
With just a few pokes, RangerBot would administer a swift demise to the starfish! Brilliant as the idea was, maneuvering the robot was tricky. And if Matthew missed any of a starfish’s arms, the beast would survive.
Even the groundbreaking technology behind RangerBot couldn’t save the reef. Stopping the starfish wasn’t a comprehensive enough solution, that much was clear. Matthew asked his colleagues for some help.
His friend Peter Harrison, a marine ecologist, assured Matthew that RangerBot was far from a lost cause. Maybe they could start using it differently. For example, what if the robot gave life instead of death?
Peter had been studying a strand of heat resistant coral, species that could theoretically survive the areas most affected by climate change. Once artificial intelligence pinpointed the hardiest types of this coral, divers went in to collect samples.
Meanwhile, Matthew made some upgrades to his precious creation. Instead of unleashing its deadly needle, the robot would travel along damaged sections of the reef and emit tiny coral organisms.
Matthew and Peter dubbed it Larvalbot. Using the heat resistant specimens gathered from other parts of the world, hopefully, their submersible would be able to repopulate reefs everywhere. By 2018, it was ready for its first test.
LarvalBot made its maiden voyage at Vlasoff Reef, not far from the northeastern coast of Australia. Its basic systems all appeared to be functioning properly, but then the moment of truth arrived.
Once it reached the ideal spot, the robot dispersed coral spawn all over the damaged reef. Its tank empty, Larvalbot made its way back to the surface. All Peter and Matthew could do was wait.
Initial signs were encouraging. The baby coral organisms settled in, but truth be told, it is still too early to judge whether the operation is a success. Researchers need more time to determine if the new population will survive.
But if the coral population does start to bounce back, Matthew and Peter have an aggressive plan for Larvalbot. They hope to deploy millions more spawn all over the Pacific, and there’s no time to lose.
Even if Larvalbot rescues the Great Barrier Reef from the brink of annihilation, it won’t be enough to reverse climate change. Plenty of other crises are erupting throughout Earth’s waters, though innovators are coming up with ways to turn the tide. Look at the Gulf of Oman, for instance.
The Gulf of Oman is located in the Arabian Sea, just south of Iran and north of Oman. The gulf (also known as a strait) makes up about 65,000 square miles of the sea and is approximately 2.3 miles at its deepest. It’s also incredibly dangerous.
This water is heavily used as a shipping route. It’s the only way to transport oil from the Persian Gulf and is the only water entrance from the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. This has long made it a point of contention for those in the region.
Take all that, then add the invasion of Iran by Iraq and the North-West Pakistan conflict, and it’s no wonder scientists have steered clear. No one wants to explore in the midst of political turmoil.
On top of the political violence, the Gulf of Oman and the surrounding waters are known for piracy. With the area of interest being so vast and deep, scientists needed extensive time in the strait for their research. That just wasn’t possible — until now.
Thanks to advances in technology, scientists saw an opportunity to change history. This tech allowed researchers to perform and collect extensive data while also staying far away from any known danger zones.
With this technology in mind, scientists with the England University of East Anglia (UEA) and the Sultan Qaboos University hatched a plan to study the waters of the Gulf of Oman. They would be some of the first to do so in over 50 years.
First, the UEA and the Sultan Qaboos University compiled what little existing data they could find about the region. There were some long-standing concerns about the water they wanted to investigate.
The team, led by UEA’s Dr. Bastien Queste, used two underwater robots, also known as Seagliders, to enter the dangerous Gulf of Oman. These two robot submarines were unmanned and controlled by a remote control above sea level.
These were the perfect bots for the job. The Seagliders can dive more than 3,000 feet! They’re also better at collecting data and can stay submerged for much longer than human divers.
While deployed, the Seaglider scanned the water and then collected the crucial new data. When that was done, the information would be transferred back to the scientists via satellite.
The two underwater robots traveled the Gulf of Oman for eight months collecting data. Scientists were interested in oxygen levels in that part of the Arabian Sea and how that oxygen travels throughout the water. The Seagliders were the key to getting that information.
As the scientists slowly began to receive the satellite data, they expected to see lower-than-average levels of oxygen — but not as low as the results they got! The alarming data was consistent across the board for a total surveyed area that was the size of Scotland.
The data showed that about 63,000 square miles of the Gulf of Oman were nearly depleted of oxygen, making it a dead zone. Dr. Queste said, “The Arabian Sea is the largest and thickest dead zone in the world.”
Oxygen is vital to aquatic ecosystems, yet scientists have been discovering dead zones like this one all over the world. Tragically, it’s believed that there are approximately 95,000 square miles of oxygen-depleted waters on the planet right now.
According to scientists, dead zones usually occur at depths between 650 to 2,600 feet. But climate change and various environmental factors can cause dead zones to be much worse than even that.
As the climate changes and the Earth’s temperature rises, the oceans are heating up, and warmer water contains less oxygen. Worse still, when low-oxygen water is processed, nitrous oxide is produced instead of carbon dioxide, and that’s 300 times more harmful to our atmosphere.
Dr. Queste explained, “Our research shows that the situation is actually worse than feared – and that the area of the dead zone [in the Gulf of Oman] is vast and growing. The ocean is suffocating.”
Dead zones don’t just pose a threat to wildlife. If the oxygen in the world’s oceans become “dead,” then people who rely on the ocean for food and employment will be drastically affected.
But hope isn’t lost. Past research has used computer simulation to predict the expansion of dead zones, but not with great accuracy. Now, with Dr. Queste and his team’s research, a clearer picture may be possible in the future.
Until then, what they do know is that the wildlife is trying to adapt to these changes. This often leaves them confined to smaller, unfamiliar strata. In the end, will we be able to use this data to prevent world catastrophe? Only the future knows.

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