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Human feces in Denali glaciers is heading downhill fast

Kent Miller / National Park Service photo

It won't take hundreds or thousands of years for climbers' waste dumped in glacier crevasses on Denali to show up on the glacier surface, say Alaska Pacific University researchers. It could start happening in as little as 15 to 25 years, reports the Alaska Public Radio Network. The accumulation of climber feces -- about 65 tons of it so far -- has Denali National Park rangers debating the prospect of forcing climbers to carry out all their deposits.

"We can't say it precisely, but I think the important piece of that finding is that it's not centuries away. Within the lifetime of the people managing this mountain, these waste piles are going to start to emerge on the surface."

[APU researcher Mike] Loso and graduate student Katie Goodwin also found that when the waste does emerge, it will still be quite potent. In turns out inner glaciers, which are dark and cool, are very good at preserving the type of harmful bacteria, like E. coli and fecal coliform, that live in human waste. But Loso says because it will be surfacing in such a remote area, the waste doesn't represent a major risk to human health or to the environment.

"This human waste is going into a very, very large ecosystem that it's difficult to argue is at all threatened. We could do the math and figure out how many kilograms of bear poop are out there and we'd come up with a huge number too."

Read more -- and listen to the radio report -- at AlaskaPublic.org: Human waste adds up to stinky problem on Denali