So while these defrosted bugs may not be appearing in a sci-fi thriller at your local movie house any time soon, they do present another worry for the future of the polar regions, scientists say. And when considered alongside rising seas, shifting wildlife habitats, a diminishing planetary albedo and other manifestations of a changing climate, the biggest impact of this newly liberated biological stockpile could be its ability to tip the planet's shaky equilibrium.
Priscu likens the state of today's climate to a light switch being tripped.
"If you hold that light switch right there before it flips, the lights begin to flicker. I think that's what we're seeing now," he said. "We're pushing it and it's becoming more variable, and pretty soon it'll pass a threshold and reach a new state. Whether or not it can go back to a previous state, we don't know… We may end up not ever being able to go back."
On the web:
Priscu Research Group, Montana State Univ.
Christner Research Group, Louisiana State Univ.
Foreman Research Group, Montana State Univ.
Scott Rogers, Bowling Green State Univ.
Jonathan Klassen, Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison
Antarctic subglacial lake and stream studies
Western Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide Ice Core
NASA info on global ice sheets
This article originally appeared at The Daily Climate, the climate change news source published by Environmental Health Sciences, a nonprofit media company.