Tons of human poop might soon resurface on Mount Denali, the highest peak in North America, as glaciers melt due to climate change.
The National Park Service reported human feces left by climbers on the slopes of Denali could weigh around 66 tons. The good news is that guides and climbers are adhering to the park's campaign to pack out their human wastes.
Poop On Mountains
Human feces were normally buried in snow pits on the Kahiltna glacier or thrown into deep crevasses in high altitudes. Now, park officers require that all wastes from 14,000 feet below should be carried out the mountain.
"Climbers and particularly guide services are really embracing the new policy and are even exceeding it. It has become kind of an informal badge of merit to carry off all your waste," said Michael Loso, the National Park Service's glaciologist.
Approximately 2 metric tons of feces are deposited in the mountain each year. The average climber's stay is 18 days, and the average human poop deposit weighs about half a pound.
Feces that are frozen in lower elevations will likely resurface as soon as this coming summer. Those that are deposited higher altitudes in Denali will likely take as much as two to three centuries, according to Loso.
What Goes Around, Comes Around
During his talk for the Sustainable Summits Initiative in 2016, Loso said that health risks due to fecal microorganisms increases as the ice melts. An experiment with Katie Goodwin, a former graduate student at Alaska Pacific University, found that bacteria in glaciers may survive longer than expected.
"What she found is no detectable mortality of the coliform or E. coli or Enterococcus bacteria in the waste. Only 150 days but no detectable mortality. So that's one result that we think implies that they're gonna do just fine for some period of time in the glacier," Loso said, referring to the fecal remains in Denali.
Loso added that the poop will emerge very similarly from when it was buried. When it is smushed, it would be really wet, and the smell and appearance would still be bad.
The bacteria from poop will remain biologically active even when it is buried in the snow.