23:19 GMT25 November 2020
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    Danish researchers are planning an expedition to the most remote part of Greenland to gauge the toxicity of meltwater around a former US Cold War-era military base. The base, which resembles something from a James Bond spy film, has long been a toxic stain on Danish-Greenlandic relations.

    Dating back to the 1960s, Camp Century base was officially classified as a research laboratory, but was in reality a secret nuclear missile facility. Today, scientists fear rising temperatures in the Arctic could trigger a massive leak of toxic waste from the base, which is hidden in vast Greenlandic snowfields.

    In August 2016, an international research group specifically warned that climate change could turn the base into a ticking bomb. As part of the Danish Realm, Greenland has long been urging Copenhagen to "clean up the mess" left by the country's Cold War ally.

    To provide a clear and conclusive estimate of exactly how toxic the leftover US waste is, a team of six researchers from the Geological Surveys for Denmark and Greenland (GEUS) are embarking on a 20-day mission to Camp Century. During the mission, scheduled to last from July 12 to August 9, equipment to monitor wind, weather and ice conditions over the next four years will be installed. All data will be continuously published the website Camp Century Climate, the Danish magazine Ingeniøren reported.

    By GEUS's admission, due to unsteady ice conditions and temperatures as low as —15°C, the team will rely on ski-equipped planes to visit every nook and cranny of the camp's vicinity, which is a daunting task.

    Today, a network of tunnels under snow, housing everything from research facilities to a hospital, a cinema and a church, remains abandoned inside Camp Century. The pollutants left behind are PCBs used in building supplies, tanks of raw sewage and low-radioactive coolant used in the nuclear reactor. According to climatologist and GEUS project manager William Colgan, one of the goals is to observe the interaction of the ice and the atmosphere to see how much meltwater percolates through the ice and how deep it reaches.

    All the data gathered in the government-funded project will subsequently be presented as climate models to equip the authorities with an overview of what may happen to the base in the future if present climate change trends continue.

    At the height of the Cold War in 1958, the US started building a clandestine military base under the ice cover some 250 kilometers east of Thule Air Base in northwestern Greenland. Code-named "Project Iceworm," the camp was intended to accommodate up to 200 soldiers and even included a test railway under the snow, yet was never fully realized. The movement of ice made it impossible for the project to continue, which spelled the end of Camp Century, which was successfully abandoned in 1969 after a perfunctory cleanup.

    ​Earlier this month, western Greenland was hit by a dramatic landslide, causing floods and evacuations; some people remain missing.

    ​Last month, Norway said it was boosting protection of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault after soaring temperatures caused water to leak into the entrance of the "Doomsday Vault" designed to protect the world's crops from disaster.


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    US military base, Arctic, US, Scandinavia, Denmark, Greenland
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