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.

Advertisement

"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.
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.