Alaska's rivers are turning toxic ORANGE - and experts say it could happen to more water supplies across the world

READ MORE: Ancient viruses frozen in permafrost 'could be a danger to us'

Many once crystal-clear rivers and streams across Alaska now flow with 'milky orange juice-colored' water.

A team of researchers published a new study Monday explaining how Alaska's melting permafrost, accelerated by climate change, has transformed the state's rivers into orange, acidified 'dead zones.'

Iron oxides, literally rust, created by the thawing of long-frozen mineral ore, as well as sulfuric acid created via that same process, has made the state's once fresh water as pungent as vinegar, blackening vegetation like wildfire and leaving fish dead.

One of those researchers told DailyMail.com that these 'dead zones' could crop up 'in theory, any place where permafrost is thawing,' across 5.6 billion acres of Earth's northern hemisphere.

This orange river effect, which leaves a smell that has been compared to moldy towels and rotting vegetables, can suffocate, burn and sicken aquatic life, and threatens the health and livelihoods of local communities who rely on these rivers.

Geochemist Dr Timothy Lyons and his colleagues have published new research explaining how Alaska's melting permafrost - accelerated by climate change - has transformed the state's rivers into orange, acidified 'dead zones' (photographed above)

Geochemist Dr Timothy Lyons and his colleagues have published new research explaining how Alaska's melting permafrost - accelerated by climate change - has transformed the state's rivers into orange, acidified 'dead zones' (photographed above)

'Basically, this process can happen, in theory, any place [...] you have those kinds of rocks underneath,' geochemist Dr Timothy Lyons, a co-author on a new study, told DailyMail.com.

'And these are not exceptional rocks,' Dr Lyons noted. 'They are what we call shales.'

'They contain those minerals like pyrite, and iron sulfide, that can oxidize, and not in the great abundances of an ore deposit,' he said. 'but on the scale of these rocks that are everywhere.'

Alaska's permafrost — vast underground stretches of ice-packed earth that have remained frozen solid tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of years — has reactivated age-old bacteria and released these long inactive minerals into rivers.

'They call them acidophiles,' Dr Lyons, who also teaches at the University of California, Riverside, told DailyMail.com.

'They're microbes that can live under extremely low pH conditions and play a major role in oxidizing iron and oxidizing sulfur, generating these acids,' he explained.

'A lot of those reactions are catalyzed by the melt in the wetlands.'

Using field reports and high-resolution imagery from the European Space Agency's IKONOS satellites, Dr Lyons and his co-authors documented 75 streams or tributaries and 41 river wetlands visibly impaired by the orange acidification (example imagery above)

Using field reports and high-resolution imagery from the European Space Agency's IKONOS satellites, Dr Lyons and his co-authors documented 75 streams or tributaries and 41 river wetlands visibly impaired by the orange acidification (example imagery above)

Using field reports and high-resolution imagery from the European Space Agency's IKONOS satellites, Dr Lyons and his co-authors documented 75 streams and 41 river wetlands across Alaska turned orange by this acidification.

The state of the damage spans over 620 miles according to the study, which was published Monday in the journal Communications Earth & Environment.

The problem now extends from Alaska's lower Noatak River basin in the west to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in the northeast.

It has also plagued Alaska's Kobuk Valley National Park, which the research team surveyed from the air.

'When we flew in the helicopter, it's just everywhere,' Dr Lyons told DailyMail.com.

'This is related to human activity,' he said, 'nothing short of global warming.'

Elsewhere, including across the permafrost expanse of Russia's Siberian tundra, researchers have documented gaseous 'methane bombs,' ancient 'zombie' viruses, toxic mercury, and worse, emerging from all this thawing, icy soil.

The state of the 'orange river' damage spans over 620 miles according to the study, which was published Monday in the journal Communications Earth & Environment. Above a map from the study showing the documented sites in orange

The state of the 'orange river' damage spans over 620 miles according to the study, which was published Monday in the journal Communications Earth & Environment. Above a map from the study showing the documented sites in orange

Along the Kobuk Valley's Akillik River, the team documented a dramatic die-off between June 2017 and August 2018. Two local fish species, the Dolly Varden and the Slimy Sculpin, disappeared from that year as the headwater tributary shifted from clearwater to orange

Along the Kobuk Valley's Akillik River, the team documented a dramatic die-off between June 2017 and August 2018. Two local fish species, the Dolly Varden and the Slimy Sculpin, disappeared from that year as the headwater tributary shifted from clearwater to orange

According to the study's lead author, National Park Service (NPS) ecologist Dr Jon O'Donnell, what's happening in these parts of Alaska will likely spread and persist until governments take action on climate change and work to remediate the fallout.

'There's a lot of implications,' he said. 'As the climate continues to warm, we would expect permafrost to continue to thaw and so wherever there are these types of minerals, there's potential for streams to be turning orange and becoming degraded.'

Dr O'Donnell, who works for the NPS Arctic Inventory and Monitoring Network, described the streams he saw firsthand as looking like 'milky orange juice.'

'Those orange streams can be problematic both in terms of being toxic but might also prevent migration of fish to spawning areas,' he said.

Rural communities, some longtime indigenous people, who have relied on these rivers for drinking water, will need assistance with emergency water treatment, according to the study authors, as well as help coping with declining fishing stocks.

Dr Lyons told DailyMail.com that the acidification of these rivers in Alaska resembles a well know pollution issue that occurs in rivers nearby mining projects. Above, a NASA image of this 'acid mine drainage' causing environmental damage to a river in the Rio Tinto, Spain.

Dr Lyons told DailyMail.com that the acidification of these rivers in Alaska resembles a well know pollution issue that occurs in rivers nearby mining projects. Above, a NASA image of this 'acid mine drainage' causing environmental damage to a river in the Rio Tinto, Spain.

Biologist and mathematician Dr Roman Dial, a co-author on the new study, marveled at the long-distance impact that fossil fuel use by cars and factories a world away have had on this pristine wilderness.

'The alarming thing,' Dr Dial, who teaches at Alaska Pacific University, told Scientific American, 'is how far our human reach is, in a big way.'

Along the Kobuk Valley National Park's Akillik River, Dr O'Donnell documented a dramatic die-off in aquatic life between June 12, 2017 and August 30, 2018.

Two local fish species, the Dolly Varden and the Slimy Sculpin, disappeared from the Akillik in that year, according to the new study's findings, as this headwater tributary shifted from clearwater to 'orange stream conditions.'

Dr. Lyons told DailyMail.com that the acidification of these rivers resembles a well know pollution issues that occurs when similar minerals and metal ores pour into rivers as pollution from nearby mining projects.

'There are many examples of "acid rock" or "acid mine drainage," as people call it ,' the geochemist explained.

'One of the most famous is Rio Tinto in Spain, which is a mining district has been active since Roman times,' he noted.

'There's Iron Mountain [another mine] in California, and on, and on [...] That's a problem,' he said. 'But, you can deal with it, in a sense that you can use lime, neutralize the acid. You can be more careful about the mining operations.'

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Using these methods, Dr Lyons explained, mining companies and local government agencies have been able to use so-called 'acid-base' chemical reactions with imported 'basic' compounds like lime and limestone  to counteract the acidification produced by metal mining ore runoff interacting with bacteria and the environment.

Alaska's 'Red Dog' mine, a large zinc and lead extraction project, just west of the state's Notak National Preserve has faced similar acidified river issues over the years.

But, according to Dr Lyons, the scope of what is happening with the sweeping melt of the permafrost covers so much terrain that scaling up a similar program would be an extremely challenging feat of geo-engineering.

'There's some capacity to control what a 'Red Dog' does or a 'Rio Tinto' does,' Dr Lyons told DailyMail.com. 'This is a much more pervasive problem.'

Dr Michael Carey, a fish biologist with the United States Geological Survey's Alaska Science Center, told DailyMail.com that his federal government agency does not yet have a strategy in place to cope with the permafrost melt.

'USGS plays an impartial research role for a larger partnership that is looking at this this issue,' Dr Carey told DailyMail.com.

Dr Carey, who also served as a co-author on the new research, explained that the agency is 'providing data that is being used by local communities and officials to answer questions they can use to manage the situation.'

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