Due to a buildup in methane in a rapidly heating Siberia, an explosion occurred that tossed boulders of frozen soil and ice “hundreds of metres” into the sky from the epicenter of the blast in the Yamal Penninsula.
The powerful blast site was discovered by accident when a TV news crew flew over the 165-foot deep crater. It is yet another grim reality of Arctic Amplification and is a code-red clarion call to address the deadly ramifications of the climate crisis.
The recently-formed new hole or funnel is the latest to be seen in northern Siberia since the phenomenon was first registered in 2014.
It was initially spotted by chance from the air by a Vesti Yamal TV crew en route from an unrelated assignment.
A group of scientists then made an expedition to examine the large cylindrical crater which has a depth of up to 50 metres.
Such funnels are believed to be caused by the build up of methane gas in pockets of thawing permafrost under the surface.
Scientist Dr Evgeny Chuvilin, a leading researcher at Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, said: ‘What we saw today is striking in its size and grandeur.
‘These are the colossal forces of nature that create such objects.’
The ‘crater’ – these holes are called hydrolaccoliths or bulgunnyakhs by scientists – is given the number 17, and is seen as the most impressive of the large holes to suddenly appear in recent years as the permafrost thaws.
Professor Vasily Bogoyavlensky, of the Russian Oil and Gas Research Institute in Moscow, told Vesti Yamal: ‘This object is unique. It carries a lot of additional scientific information, which I am not yet ready to disclose.
‘This is a subject for scientific publications. We have to analyse all this, and build three-dimensional models.’
Methane, of course, is a greenhouse gas that is 28 times more powerful than CO2. Methane lasts in the atmosphere for about a decade while CO2 lasts for centuries. Both gases have been pouring into the atmosphere.
The explosions are a new phenomenon and are a result of the permafrost thawing for the first time in over 10,000 years. The thaw has begun to compromise the stability of Putin’s energy infrastructure.
Permafrost, which amounts to two-thirds of the Russian territory, is a huge natural reservoir of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. As the Arctic warms and permafrost degrades due to climate change, scientists are concerned that this methane may start leaking into the atmosphere in massive amounts, further exacerbating global warming.
Right now methane is already quietly seeping from underground in the Arctic, but sometimes it does more than just that: a giant 40-meter wide alien-looking crater, dubbed the “Yamal Crater”, captured everyone’s imagination in 2014 when it was found just 42 kilometers from the Bovanenkovo gas field. Explosive events like this produce impressive “scars”, but scientists are still not sure where the gas that causes them comes from.
“Arctic craters are relatively rare phenomena that mostly occur in the remote tundra. The frost heaving that precedes a crater usually happens quite quickly, over one to two years, and this sudden growth is hard to observe, so almost all craters were discovered after everything had already happened. We have only piecemeal evidence from locals who say they heard a noise or saw smoke and flames. Plus, a crater turns into a lake in another one to two years, which is then hard to distinguish from common thermokarst lakes in the Arctic,” says Evgeny Chuvilin of the Skoltech Center for Hydrocarbon Recovery, the paper’s first author.