Siberia’s cold climate and tundra landscape brings up images of vast, empty, snow covered spaces. But what if someone told you that in these flat lands with little vegetation, there are giant craters. Like something out of a science fiction novel, Siberia’s landscape is starting to look a bit like the surface of the Moon, with new craters seemingly erupting out of thin air.
The first crater was spotted in 2013, when a helicopter pilot spotted a huge hole in the permafrost in the Yamal region. Since then, many more craters have been cropping up. What is causing these huge holes in the land? Is there any way to stop these craters from appearing? We’ll uncover the mystery of the giant craters of Siberia.
Mysterious Craters Appearing
For locals, something very strange is going on in Siberia. Scientists around the world are starting to investigate the disturbing craters that are beginning to appear in northern Siberia. After the initial spotting of a strange hole in the Yamal region in northern Russia, many more craters have appeared since.
Two more giant craters were discovered in 2013. By 2015, another four giant craters were discovered, along with dozens of smaller holes. A leading geologist has predicted that approximately 30 more craters are still undiscovered in Siberia.
Scientists have turned to satellite images to confirm the number and size of the craters in Siberia. Old satellite images of Siberia show no signs of craters in the landscape. A recent satellite image has found that there is a 100 by 50 meter hole filled with water, surrounded by 20 smaller craters filled with water.
Experts and locals are all astounded by these newly formed giant craters. In an attempt to explain their sudden appearances, scientists have gone to locals to get more information about the time at which they’ve appeared.
Exploding Methane Theory
One possible explanation for these strange craters appearing over the past couple of years is that they are the result of exploding gases.
Locals on the Yamal Peninsula have reported seeing a flash of light near a crater, which is what first indicated the possibility of these explosions. Because of climate change, the permafrost is melting, which leads to methane gas erupting. These methane gas eruptions then lead to large craters in the earth.
However, not all scientists are convinced with this theory. Carolyn Ruppel argues that methane does not set in until about 200 meters deep, and that the craters are much shallower than that, which could discount the methane gas explosion theory.
Ice Plug Theory
Another theory that might explain the cause of these bizarre craters is related to pingos – mounds of earth -covered ice that can be found in Arctic and subarctic regions.
A pingo is a plug of ice that is formed at the surface, and has a small hill on top of it. When the ice plug melts quickly, it can cause the ground to collapse and thereby forms a crater. Over the past years, Siberia has seen extremely warm weather, which could have caused these pingos to melt quickly.
Other scientists reject the pingo theory, since many of the craters have ejected rocks around the rim of the craters, suggesting an explosion, rather than a collapse.
Exploding Pingo Theory
There is a third theory that might actually solve the debate between the explosion vs. melting theories. After conducting an expedition of a crater, Professor Vasily Bogoyavlensky hypothesized that these craters come from what he calls exploding pingos. This would mean that both theories were partially right.
He thinks that when the ice plug starts to melt, the half melted ice core is filled with gas. This gas comes from the depth of the earth, rising through cracks in the ground and pingo. The rising gas, once trapped in the pingo, causes it to explode.
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Although the exact explanation for these giant craters remains a mystery, there is no doubt that there is a link to climate change. The underground temperatures in parts of Siberia have risen by almost four degrees in the past fifteen years.
Whether the cause of these craters are exploding methane, or melting pingos, or a mix of the two, all theories are based on the fact that the permafrost in Siberia is melting, at a frightening rate.
The real danger is that these craters could get larger, and could affect locals. Even before these craters appeared, scientists were concerned that Lake Baikal, the world’s largest and oldest freshwater lake, could explode at any moment.
The methane locked inside the permafrost is so colossal, that an explosion could be more powerful than 11 tons of TNT. Authorities are now trying to find a solution for this very urgent issue. Right now, the main strategy is to research the craters extensively to understand exactly what causes them.
A serious concern is that there will be new gas emissions in the Arctic, and that they could ignite. The researchers’ goals are to understand which areas are the most dangerous.
Connection Between Global Warming and the Craters
Global warming isn’t only the cause of these giant craters – it has also had devastating effects on the Arctic. With rising temperatures, there has been a loss of sea ice, and the melting of the Greenland ice sheet. This has seriously changed the environment for plant and animal life – leading wildlife to near extinction.
In 2007, the National Wildlife Foundation asked the United States Congress to place polar bears under their Endangered Species Act. It is predicted that the floating Arctic sea ice will shrink rapidly over the next 50 years, which will cause the polar bear habitat to diminish significantly. Polar bears also have a shorter seal hunting season because ice is formed much later in the season, and thaws much sooner.
Video: Mysterious craters in Siberia
In the summer of 2014 a giant crater was spotted in an area sometimes referred to as the “end of the world.” Now, 2 years later, scientists finally think they know what caused these massive holes.
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