When a deadly virus that killed tens of thousands of European harbor seals in the northern Atlantic Ocean in 2002 began threatening sea lions, seals and otters in the northern Pacific Ocean, scientists were initially puzzled, NBC News reports.
The highly contagious phocine distemper virus — which is not believed to affect humans — attacks the respiratory and nervous systems of some marine mammals. But there was no indication it had infected animals that could have taken it to different parts of the world.
Goldstein and some of her colleagues examined 15 years of data that included measurements of Arctic sea ice and data from animals that had been tagged by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other institutions to study their migration patterns.
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Their conclusion: Melting Arctic sea ice brought on by the Earth’s warming climate created a way for the virus to move into a new region and infect a new population of sea life.