As climate change continues to melt sea ice, people, particularly in coastal regions are becoming increasingly worried about being cities going underwater in the future; but now, it appears that there is another problem: melting sea ice is also allowing a deadly virus to spread and kill marine animals. That virus is PDV, or phocine distemper virus, a deadly virus that is spreading among rapidly in the Arctic waters.
While this virus continues to infect rapid and lethal rate, the disease is causing many scientists to scratch their heads. How is it traveling so quickly? And how is climate change playing a role in its rapid spread?
What Is PDV And How Is It Impacting Marine Animals?
PDV has been notorious for infecting seal populations for the last few decades. Since 1988, it has caused multiple mass deaths within the marine animal population. At an alarming rate, tens of thousands of marine animals are falling victim to PDV.
Once isolated, the virus is now circulating in seal species across the globe.
With the use of 15 years of data that tracked 2,530 live and 165 dead marine animals of multiple regions, scientists began searching for an explanation for PDV’s infectious trend.
PDV Outbreaks Linked To Reduction Of Sea Ice
In a recent study published by Nature, researchers linked the viral emergence in marine animals to Arctic sea ice reduction. Offering an answer to the head-scratching situation, the authors found that the melting of ice is opening-up previously blocked pathways in the Arctic Circle.
Throughout their experiment, the researchers focused on samples from animals living in icy habitats. These include spotted seals, bearded seals, steller sea lions, northern fur, seals, and northern sea otters.
In 2003, the scientists identified a widespread exposure to and infection of PDV in the North Pacific Ocean. Six years later in 2009, the second peak of PDV exposure had infected marine animals in connected regions.
These trends were directly related to the reduction of Arctic sea ice.
Many times, Arctic ice acts as a barrier between ocean regions. However, once melted, there is no longer a physical separation between ecosystems.
With new paths of travel, the increase of marine animal mobility leads to the transmission of PDV among sea life. As there becomes more contact between the Arctic and sub-arctic marine animals, the two regions are continuing to infect once-healthy populations.
More Than One Way Of Exposing Marine Animals To Disease
Unfortunately, there is more than one way that the melting of sea ice is introducing diseases into the environment and impacting marine animals.
Through Earth’s rising temperatures, many bodies of ice are beginning to thaw for the first time in decades. Remarkably, viruses have the ability to survive a long time in frigid environments.
Under the right conditions, previously frozen organisms have a high probability of becoming re-exposed to the environment. Despite being dormant for a long period of time, these diseases may return at a similar infectious level as before.
For example, in 2014, two scientists resurrected the largest virus ever seen. After extracting the ancient virus from a 30,000-year-old sample of ice, the disease was still infections despite centuries of lying dormant.
Fortunately, PDV-positive marine animals lie in colder waters. As a result, sea animals in warmer regions are most likely safe from PDV.
However, scientists still believe the spread of pathogens could become more common as ice continues to melt with the increased opportunity to affect more species.
To stop this infectious trend, the obvious answer is to put a halt on melting sea ice. In order to do this, each and every population has to become educated on the causes of climate change and preventative solutions.
Instead of having to learn to adapt, let us work to ensure marine animals are able to live in the quality of life they deserve.