Nav: Home

Melting arctic sea ice linked to emergence of deadly virus in marine mammals

November 07, 2019

Scientists have linked the decline in Arctic sea ice to the emergence of a deadly virus that could threaten marine mammals in the North Pacific, according to a study from the University of California, Davis.

Phocine distemper virus (PDV), a pathogen responsible for killing thousands of European harbor seals in the North Atlantic in 2002, was identified in northern sea otters in Alaska in 2004, raising questions about when and how the virus reached them.

The 15-year study, published today in the journal Scientific Reports, highlights how the radical reshaping of historic sea ice may have opened pathways for contact between Arctic and sub-Arctic seals that was previously impossible. This allowed for the virus' introduction into the Northern Pacific Ocean.

"The loss of sea ice is leading marine wildlife to seek and forage in new habitats and removing that physical barrier, allowing for new pathways for them to move," said corresponding author Tracey Goldstein, associate director of the One Health Institute at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. "As animals move and come in contact with other species, they carry opportunities to introduce and transmit new infectious disease, with potentially devastating impacts."

AS ICE MELTS, A VIRUS ON THE MOVE

Researchers sampled marine mammals for phocine distemper virus exposure and infection from 2001-2016. Sampled mammals included ice-associated seals, northern fur seals, Steller sea lions and northern sea otters from Southeast Alaska to Russia along the Aleutian Islands and the Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort seas.

Arctic ocean sea ice and open water routes were assessed from the North Atlantic to North Pacific oceans. Satellite telemetry data helped the researchers link animal movement and risk factor data to demonstrate that exposed animals have the potential to carry phocine distemper virus long distances.

The authors identified widespread infection and exposure to the virus across the North Pacific Ocean beginning in 2003, with a second peak of exposure and infection in 2009. These peaks coincided with reductions in Arctic sea ice extent.

"As sea ice continues its melting trend, the opportunities for this virus and other pathogens to cross between North Atlantic and North Pacific marine mammals may become more common," said first author Elizabeth VanWormer, a postdoctoral researcher at UC Davis during the study and currently an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. "This study highlights the need to understand PDV transmission and the potential for outbreaks in sensitive species within this rapidly changing environment."
-end-
COAUTHORS AND FUNDING

Additional coauthoring institutions include University of Saint Andrews, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, NOAA Fisheries, Alaska Fisheries Science Center Marine Mammal Center, University of Glasgow, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, University of Alaska-Fairbanks, Queens University Belfast, Pirbright Institute, and Alaska Veterinary Pathology.

This study was supported by funding from the Morris Animal Foundation and the NOAA Oceans and Human Health Graduate Traineeship Program. Additional support was provided by the Alaska Fisheries Science Center Marine Mammal Laboratory and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

University of California - Davis

Related Sea Ice Articles:

Low sea-ice cover in the Arctic
The sea-ice extent in the Arctic is nearing its annual minimum at the end of the melt season in September.
Arctic sea ice 2019 wintertime extent is seventh lowest
Sea ice in the Arctic appears to have hit its annual maximum extent after growing through the fall and winter.
Study shows algae thrive under Greenland sea ice
Microscopic marine plants flourish beneath the ice that covers the Greenland Sea, according to a new study in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans.
ICESat-2 reveals profile of ice sheets, sea ice, forests
With each pass of the ICESat-2 satellite, the mission is adding to datasets tracking Earth's rapidly changing ice.
Arctic cyclone limits the time-scale of precise sea-ice prediction in Northern Sea Route?
Climate change has accelerated sea-ice retreat in the Arctic Ocean, leading to new opportunities for summer commercial maritime navigation along the Northern Sea Route.
Ocean waves following sea ice loss trigger Antarctic ice shelf collapse
Storm-driven ocean swells have triggered the catastrophic disintegration of Antarctic ice shelves in recent decades, according to new research published in Nature today.
New technique more accurately reflects ponds on Arctic sea ice
This one simple mathematical trick can accurately predict the shape and melting effects of ponds on Arctic sea ice, according to new research by UChicago scientists.
Arctic wintertime sea ice extent is among lowest on record
Sea ice in the Arctic grew to its annual maximum extent last week, and joined 2015, 2016 and 2017 as the four lowest maximum extents on record, according to scientists at the NASA-supported National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and NASA.
Sea ice algae blooms in the dark
Researchers from Aarhus University have measured a new world record: Small ice algae on the underside of the Arctic sea ice live and grow at a light level corresponding to only 0.02 percent of the light at the surface of the ice.
Weather anomalies accelerate the melting of sea ice
ETH researchers reveal why Arctic sea ice began to melt in the middle of winter two years ago -- and that the increased melting of ice in summer is linked to recurring periods of fair weather.
More Sea Ice News and Sea Ice Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Risk
Why do we revere risk-takers, even when their actions terrify us? Why are some better at taking risks than others? This hour, TED speakers explore the alluring, dangerous, and calculated sides of risk. Guests include professional rock climber Alex Honnold, economist Mariana Mazzucato, psychology researcher Kashfia Rahman, structural engineer and bridge designer Ian Firth, and risk intelligence expert Dylan Evans.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#540 Specialize? Or Generalize?
Ever been called a "jack of all trades, master of none"? The world loves to elevate specialists, people who drill deep into a single topic. Those people are great. But there's a place for generalists too, argues David Epstein. Jacks of all trades are often more successful than specialists. And he's got science to back it up. We talk with Epstein about his latest book, "Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World".
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dolly Parton's America: Neon Moss
Today on Radiolab, we're bringing you the fourth episode of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this episode, Jad goes back up the mountain to visit Dolly's actual Tennessee mountain home, where she tells stories about her first trips out of the holler. Back on the mountaintop, standing under the rain by the Little Pigeon River, the trip triggers memories of Jad's first visit to his father's childhood home, and opens the gateway to dizzying stories of music and migration. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.