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Siberia, a minefield: more and more explosive craters appear due to the thawing of permafrost

Last year, just around this time, we echoed a gigantic 50-meter hole that had appeared in the middle of Siberia. He was not the only one. More and more craters of this type appear out of nowhere in Siberia. Gas explosions from the permafrost that, so far, have not claimed any lives. Researchers are now looking for a way to predict where the next explosion will appear.


Metaphorically speaking, Siberia is turning into a minefield. An increasing number of craters have appeared in recent years. These are explosive gases below the surface that burst onto the surface, breaking up the permafrost. The area of ​​the Yamal Peninsula in Siberia seems to be the most affected, it was where the first one was discovered in 2014, it was where we saw another last year and it is where at least 20 more have appeared. It is not in vain, it is an area of ​​northern Russia and with a large area of ​​permafrost.

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Early theories suggested that it could be meteorites, but this was quickly discarded studying the craters more closely. On the other hand, it was suggested that the problem lay in the extraction of fossil fuels in the region. This was also later ruled out when the reason for how the explosions arose was discovered.

A clear and direct culprit: climate change

The culprit is neither a meteorite nor the extraction of fossil fuels. The real culprit is climate change. A new study has analyzed the geology of the place and some of the craters that have appeared. With this they have been able to better determine how these huge holes appear in the earth.

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Everything starts when there is a build-up of natural gas inside the Earth. This is relatively common and is actually what allows us to extract natural gas or other fossil fuels. The second necessary factor is high temperatures, high enough to weaken the permafrost. And this is certainly something that the Arctic and Siberia have suffered greatly in recent years. There have been temperatures of 48 ° C in the Arctic Circle this summer, record thaws, heat waves and fires.

Consequently, the permafrost has started to melt in the area. This makes it easier for gases inside to pressurize and rise to the surface. If that happens, they do it in the form of a huge explosion that leaves behind gigantic holes like the ones we have found.

Generally what accumulates under the ground is methane, which increases its pressure as time passes. Melting permafrost also releases its own accumulated methane from organic debris. Once the permafrost roof is sufficiently weakened, it is a matter of time for it to fall under its own weight and cause the explosion.

The permafrost thaw and what it can release into the atmosphere is something that has always been a concern. We have already seen gas leaks at the bottom of the ocean and in Siberia itself microscopic animals wake up after 24,000 years of hibernation.

Methane, epidemics and twice the CO2: the beast that can release the Arctic permafrost if it thaws

The “good news” according to the researchers is that this probably only occurs on the Yamal Peninsula and the Gydan Peninsula. They are two areas of the world that have the necessary geological conditions for this. That is, large accumulations of gas near the surface, rising gas and water fluids, and permafrost also saturated with gas. Therefore, it is difficult for this type of explosions to occur in other regions of the Arctic such as Norway, Finland, Sweden, Greenland, Canada or Alaska (United States).

Via | Vice
More information | MDPI