The Story of COVID-19 Will Be Told By Glaciers For Centuries to Come

Emily Crofton | | BrainsBrains
Ice records events such as disease, drought, volcanic eruptions, and past global events. photo credit: carbon brief

The COVID-19 global pandemic is dramatically affecting the world at large, leaving behind a trail of evidence that will be trackable in years, even centuries, to come. Scientists from Ohio State University say that the Earth’s crust will reveal proof of COVID-19 likely for the rest of Earth’s timeline. With such drastic changes in human behavior, ultimately resulting in environmental impacts, there is no doubt that in years to come, samples from glacier ice will reflect this virus.

The key to analyzing ice cores and the evidence they hold, according to Byrd Center geography researcher Ellen Mosley-Thompson, is to support it with human historical records. Without the context of date-specific records, there will be a disconnect. For example, ice cores from the 1300s showed evidence of significant dust, which had been caused by a major drought that persisted for more than four decades.

In terms of plague related evidence, studies show the effects of less human behavior. Mosley-Thompson commented, “on some glaciers, the ice that formed during the years of the Plague contains less lead than ice that formed during preceding years, likely because mining and smelting activities sharply dropped off during that time. COVID-19 already affecting Earth’s atmosphere, with the majority of the population staying home and driving less. Nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide levels have dropped in parts of the world, both pollutants that form during the process of burning gas and oil. It is believed that this decrease will be evident in ice cores collected in the future.”

The visibly darker band seen in this ice core sample reflects volcanic ash from approximately 21,000 years ago. photo credit: Heidi Roop, National Science Foundation

Snow and ice have the ability to hold in place the contents of the atmosphere at the time if forms. This includes chemicals, minerals, and even microbes such as bacteria and viruses. Therefore, it is similar to a timeline, showing atmospheric changes year by year. Between scientific evidence and human historical records, the earth’s core has an incredible way of showing the connection between humans and the environment, as well as significant global events.


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