Giant Siberian craters mystery – News isn’t good
Researchers have long contended that the epicenter of global warming is also farthest from the reach of humanity. It’s in the barren landscapes of the frozen North, where red-cheeked children wear fur, the sun barely rises in the winter and temperatures can plunge dozens of degrees below zero. Such a place is the Yamal Peninsula in Siberia, translated as “the ends of the Earth,” a desolate spit of land where a group called the Nenets live.
By now, you’ve heard of the crater on the Yamal Peninsula. It’s the one that suddenly appeared, yawning nearly 100 feet in diameter, and made several rounds in the global viral media machine. The adjectives most often used to describe it: giant, mysterious, curious. Scientists were subsequently “baffled.” Locals were “mystified.” There were whispers that aliens were responsible. Nearby residents peddled theories of “bright flashes” and “celestial bodies.”
There’s now a substantiated theory about what created the crater. And the news isn’t so good.
It may be methane gas, released by the thawing of frozen ground. According to a recent Nature article, “air near the bottom of the crater contained unusually high concentrations of methane — up to 9.6% — in tests conducted at the site on 16 July, says Andrei Plekhanov, an archaeologist at the Scientific Centre of Arctic Studies in Salekhard, Russia. Plekhanov, who led an expedition to the crater, says that air normally contains just 0.000179% methane.”
The scientist said the methane release may be related to Yamal’s unusually hot summers in 2012 and 2013, which were warmer by an average of 5 degrees Celsius. “As temperatures rose, the researchers suggest, permafrost thawed and collapsed, releasing methane that had been trapped in the icy ground,” the report stated.
A new expedition to the craters in Yamal, in northern Russia, shows how they have rapidly altered since they were first noticed last year, but also indicates the possibility that not all the craters were formed in identical ways. The holes – first noticed last year – intrigued and perplexed scientists from around the world, initially provoking a number of explanations as to their cause, the most outlandish of which was that they were caused by stray missiles or even aliens from outer space.
Now the experts say the formation is something ‘never observed’ before, linked to warm weather in recent years. New pictures from the expedition are shown here, showing how one of the holes has rapidly filled with water in recent months.
The most famous crater – known to scientists as B-1 – was measured by echo-sounder this week and found to be over 60 metres deep, significantly more than previously thought. But the experts are surprised how quickly it filled with water after the melting of the winter snow cover.
The water is now only 10 metres from the rim of the hole, and the scientists are witnessing a lake being formed before their eyes.
Professor Vasily Bogoyavlensky, who led the latest expedition, told The Siberian Times: ‘I think that next year it will be full of water and it will turn completely into a lake; in 10-20 years it will be difficult to say what happened here. The parapet will be washed away with rains and melting snow, the banks will be covered with water.
‘This large crater fills with water rather fast – in just two years, so we need to examine such objects quickly.’
The professor, deputy director of the Moscow-based Oil and Gas Research Institute, part of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said: ‘We can now say more confidently about the process that led to the formation of the famous Yamal crater B-1. It was combination of a thermokarst (a form of pre-glacial topography) process and the migration of gases from the depth’.
It was also created from a pingo, he believes, something that experts initially doubted.
‘It was a pingo or bulgunnyakh (mounds with an ice core common for Arctic and sub-Arctic regions), and then, due to the Earth’s heat flow this pingo starts to thaw and its half melted ice core is filled with gas that originates from the depth through cracks and faults in the ground.
‘We know for sure that there is a fissure in the ground under this spot, probably even two intersecting faults – gullies around the spot confirm this. Through the cracks, natural gas got into the melting ice core, filled it and the pingo erupted. It was also heated by a stream of warmth coming from the bowels of the earth through the cracks.’
It is believed methane gas was largely responsible, though readings taken by the latest expedition showed no abnormal gas levels at the site.
The process is different than usual, because ‘normally pingos thaw and collapse, forming the craters and then lakes which is quite a normal process.
‘Pingos are quite common in Arctic areas, the largest are in Canada with some of them in Tuktoyuktuk Peninsula reaching one to two km in diameter and up to one hundred metres in height. In the Russian Arctic we have many with an average size of one to two hundred metres in diameter and about ten to twenty metres in height. The process of ‘degassing’ is not a new phenomenon either.
‘Recently this became more active and, as we see, it can combine with pingos which then erupt. We have to monitor these objects, especially given the fact that Yamal is being actively developed for energy exploitation.
‘Last year we passed to officials the information about a big pingo near a gas pipeline, which even began to lift the pipe like a jack-screw.
‘Still the officials have not yet taken any measures to move the pipe. But we will continue to research and inform on possible dangers to infrastructure.’