Global warming will expose a secret Cold War-era nuclear base in the coming decades — that’s according to The Guardian newspaper on a recent climate study.
The tone of the article is that Camp Century, a defunct U.S. military base in northwest Greenland, is on the verge of being exposed by global warming. The camp and the supposedly radioactive waste it conceals were part of an “underground cold war network that had been thought buried forever, until climate change made that highly unlikely,” according to The Guardian.
Camp Century is “likely to be uncovered by rising temperatures within decades,” The Guardian urgently reported. The study’s lead author added to The Guardian article’s sense of urgency.
“They thought it would never be exposed,” William Colgan, a glacier scientist at York University, told The Guardian.
“Back then, in the 60s, the term global warming had not even been coined,” Colgan said. “But the climate is changing, and the question now is whether what’s down there is going to stay down there.”
The Guardian fanned the flames, reporting Greenland was heating up faster than expected. The newspaper reported that “Greenland’s temperatures broke new records this spring and summer,” which “shocked meteorologists so much they had to recheck their measurements.”
“Between 2003 and 2010, the ice that covers much of the island melted twice as fast as during the whole of the 20th century,” The Guardian reported. “This year it began melting a month earlier than usual.”
Sounds like bad news for Greenlanders — until you look at the fine print.
When The Guardian reported Camp Century could be unearthed “within decades,” the article really meant like seven or eight decades at least. And that’s assuming continued warming — warming could slow down or speed up.
“Our estimate is that by 2090, the exposure will be irreversible. It could happen sooner if the magnitude of climate change accelerates,” Colgan said.
What is concerning about melting over Camp Century is the possible mixing of toxic, radioactive wastes into the ice. Colgan and his team are worried ice melt could seep down, intermingle with such waste and be carried deeper into Greenland’s ice sheet.
That would likely be bad, but, again, Colgan’s study found “88 years of persistent … ablation … would be required to melt all overlying ﬁrn and expose wastes at the ice sheet surface.”
While Colgan warns Camp Century may be exposed as global warming melts ice, his own study shows the secret base has been buried deeper under growing amounts since it was excavated in 1959.
In 1959, Camp Century was only 26 feet deep, but by 2016 the base was buried under nearly 90 feet of ice.
That’s why Colgan says the ice around Camp Century will go from “net accumulation to net ablation is plausible within the next 75 years” — not exactly imminent.
That being said, Camp Century has a crazy history. Here’s what The Guardian reported:
Project Iceworm, presented to the US chiefs of staff in 1960, aimed to use Camp Century’s frozen tunnels to test the feasibility of a huge launch site under the ice, close enough to fire nuclear missiles directly at the Soviet Union.
At the height of the cold war, as the US and the USSR were engaged in a terrifying standoff over the deployment of Soviet missiles in Cuba, the US army was considering the construction of a vast subterranean extension of Camp Century.
A system of about 4,000 kilometres of icy underground tunnels and chambers extending over an area around three times the size of Denmark were to have housed 600 ballistic missiles in clusters six kilometres apart, trained on Moscow and its satellites.
Eventually the engineers realised Iceworm would not work. The constantly moving ice was too unstable and would have deformed and perhaps even collapsed the tunnels.
From 1964 Camp Century was used only intermittently, and three years later it was abandoned altogether, the departing soldiers taking the reaction chamber of the nuclear generator with them.
They left the rest of the camp’s infrastructure – and its biological, chemical and radioactive waste – where it was, on the assumption it would be “preserved for eternity” by the perpetually accumulating snow and ice.
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