Secret US military project hidden under ice sheet for decades will be revealed sooner than expected thanks to climate change

An aerial shot of the camp that was designed to test whether a missile could be fired from the Arctic during the Cold War. Photo / US Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory via University of Zurich.
An aerial shot of the camp that was designed to test whether a missile could be fired from the Arctic during the Cold War. Photo / US Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory via University of Zurich.

It seems a story straight from a Cold War thriller - only the case of Camp Century is 100 per cent fact.

Now scientists have discovered the secretive military base in Greenland created by Danish and US governments during the 1950s and thought to be locked under the ice forever could be exposed by climate change.

A recent study published in the journal of Geophysical Research Letters found the submerged city could be exposed within 75 years under a "business as usual" approach to global warming.

It means low-level radioactive material, sewage, diesel and other waste that governments assumed would be locked up indefinitely in the ice could be leaked into the surrounding environment with no plan as to who is responsible.

"Two generations ago, people were interring waste in different areas of the world, and now climate change is modifying those sites," lead author William Colgan, of Canada's York University told the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES).

"It's a new breed of political challenge we have to think about."

A thermal drill used to penetrate the icesheet at Camp Century.
A thermal drill used to penetrate the icesheet at Camp Century.

COLD WAR CAMP

The secretive site was built in 1959 under a treaty between the US and Denmark where the US was studying whether or not the Arctic could serve as a potential missile launch site during the Cold War known as Project Iceworm.

Buildings were constructed eight metres deep in what was thought to be a "dry snow" zone. However by the mid-1960s Project Iceworm had been abandoned and those involved left gallons of fuel, sewage and radioactive coolant at the site under the assumption it would be "preserved for eternity by perpetual snowfall".

That's until Colgan and his team embarked on the study which found the ice sheet covering the camp is much more susceptible to climate change than previously thought.

The team found the "potential remobilisation" of the physical, chemical, biological and radiological wastes which were "previously regarded as sequestered" could lead to a diplomatic nightmare as it was never established who was responsible for waste.

"It is unclear whether Denmark was sufficiently consulted regarding the specific decommissioning of Camp Century, and thus whether the abandoned wastes there remain US property," the authors state.

The secretive military base in Greenland thought to be locked under the ice forever could be exposed by climate change.
The secretive military base in Greenland thought to be locked under the ice forever could be exposed by climate change.

Waste left under the ice includes old buildings, a railway, grey water and sewage in unlined sumps in addition to the chemical and radioactive material estimated to be between 36 and 65 metres deep.

While the authors are not advocating digging it out of the ground, now, Mr Colgan said "it's only a mater of time" before the site is exposed.

"When we looked at the climate simulations, they suggested that rather than perpetual snowfall, it seems that as early as 2090, the site could transition from net snowfall to net melt," he told CIRES.

"Once the site transitions from net snowfall to net melt, it's only a matter of time before the wastes melt out; it becomes irreversible."

The US and Danish governments have not commented on Camp Century.

- news.com.au

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