Apocalypse in the Arctic: All Hell Breaks Loose as the Tundra Thaws
July 25, 2017
Jeremy Plester / The Guardian & Kevin Loria / Business Insider & The Siberian Times
Strange things have been happening in the frozen tundra of northern Siberia. A recent heat wave in Siberia's frozen wastes has triggered a massive melting of the region's permafrost and triggered outbreaks of deadly anthrax, which hadn't been seen in the region for 75 years. At the same time, local residents -- and scientists -- have been startled by the appearance of large methane-filled craters and a the region has been rocked by series of violent explosions.
All Hell Breaks Loose as the Tundra Thaws
Jeremy Plester / The Guardian
One of the giant craters discovered on the Yamal Peninsula. Photograph: Vasily Bogoyavlensky/AFP/Getty Images
(July 20, 2017) -- Strange things have been happening in the frozen tundra of northern Siberia. Last August a boy died of anthrax in the remote Yamal Peninsula, and 20 other infected people were treated and survived. Anthrax hadn't been seen in the region for 75 years, and it's thought the recent outbreak followed an intense heat-wave in Siberia, temperatures reaching over 30C that melted the frozen permafrost.
Long dormant spores of the highly infectious anthrax bacteria frozen in the carcass of an infected reindeer rejuvenated themselves and infected herds of reindeer and eventually local people.
More recently, a huge explosion was heard in June in the Yamal Peninsula. Reindeer herders camped nearby saw flames shooting up with pillars of smoke and found a large crater left in the ground. Melting permafrost was again suspected, thawing out dead vegetation and erupting in a blowout of highly flammable methane gas.
Over the past three years, 14 other giant craters have been found in the region, some of them truly massive -- the first one discovered was around 50m (160ft) wide and about 70m (230ft) deep, with steep sides and debris spread all around.
There have also been cases of the ground trembling in Siberia as bubbles of methane trapped below the surface set the ground wobbling like an airbed. Even more dramatic, setting fire to methane released from frozen lakes in both Siberia and Alaska causes some impressive flames to erupt.
Methane is of huge concern. It is more than 20 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and a massive release of methane in the Arctic could pose a significant threat to the global climate, driving worldwide temperatures even higher.
Locals Just Discovered Two More
Mysterious Craters In Siberia
Kevin Loria / Business Insider
The second Yamal Peninsula crater. Press Service of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug Governor
(July 29, 2014) -- The giant crater recently discovered on a peninsula so remote that it's known as "the end of the world" is apparently not the only mysterious hole in the region, according to The Siberian Times.
Reindeer herders stumbled across -- and almost into -- two other gaping chasms in the earth, one near the original on the Yamal peninsula, and the other on the Taymyr Peninsula, another desolate area to the east.
Locals actually witnessed the formation of the second Yamal crater, according to The Siberian Times. But they gave conflicting reports when discussing what happened:
Observers give several versions. According to the first, initially... the place was smoking, and then there was a bright flash. In the second version, a celestial body fell there.
This hole is about 50 feet across -- about half the size of the first crater discovered. The third crater, on the peninsula to the east, was much smaller -- only about 15 feet across, though it could be as deep as the first, 300 feet. That hole lies on a route that indigenous reindeer herders frequently use. There's a photo on the Siberian Times website.
While these newly found craters are just as mysterious as the first, Marina Leibman, a Russian permafrost expert, has helped further explain what might be going on in a conversation with Andrew Revkin at the New York Times.
She said that at least the first hole was probably the result of methane gas being released from the frozen ground under the permafrost, which is comprised of ice, water and soil. As the gas released, it would have exploded through the surface. She also said that the process is most likely the normal way that lakes in the region form -- maybe not so mysterious after all.
Pingos in the region -- frozen bulges in the permafrost -- can melt if they get warm enough. That releases what's inside and leaves a crater behind that then usually becomes a lake. . . .
Leibman expects that this crater will become a lake in the next few years.
Trembling Tundra -- the latest Weird Phenomenon in Siberia's Land of Craters
The Siberian Times
The Taimyr crater -- after it was discovered and a year and a half after it was found. Pictures: The Siberian Times
(July 20, 2016) -- Earth is moving as 'leaking methane gas due to global warming causes surface to bubble' in a new phenomenon.
This extraordinary sight - in a video filmed of the tundra on remote Belyy Island in the Kara Sea off the Yamal Peninsula coastline - was witnessed by a scientific research expedition. Researchers Alexander Sokolov and Dorothee Ehrich spotted 15 patches of trembling or bubbling grass-covered ground.
When punctured they emitted methane and carbon dioxide, according to measurements, although so far no details have been given. The reason is as yet unclear, but one possible explanation of the phenomenon is abnormal heat that caused permafrost to thaw, releasing gases.
Alexander Sokolov said that this summer is unusually hot on the Arctic island, a sign of which is polar bears moving from the frozen sea to the island.
Trembling Methane Bubbles
Scientists have warned at the potential catastrophic impact of global warming leading to the release into the atmosphere of harmful gases hitherto frozen in the ground or under the sea. A possibility is that the trembling tundra on Bely Island is this process in action.
Further south, on the Yamal and Taimyr peninsulas, scientists are actively observing a number of craters that have suddenly formed in the permafrost.
When the craters first appeared on the Yamal Peninsula - known to locals as "the end of the world" - they sparked bizarre theories as to their formation.
They ranged from meteorites to stray missiles fired by Vladimir Putin's military machine and from manmade pranks to the work of visiting aliens. Most experts now believe they were created by explosions of methane gas unlocked by warming temperatures in the far north of Russia.
On Yamal, the main theory is that the craters were formed by pingos - dome-shaped mounds over a core of ice - erupting under pressure of methane gas released by the thawing of permafrost caused by climate change.
The Yamal craters, some tiny but others large, were created by natural gas filling vacant space in ice humps, eventually triggering eruptions, according to leading authority Professor Vasily Bogoyavlensky, of Moscow's Oil and Gas Research Institute.
Recently there were accounts of a 'big bang' leading to the formation of a crater on the Taimyr Peninsula. The noise could be heard up to 100 kilometres away and one resident. They saw a 'glow in the sky' after the explosion.
The crater was first seen by reindeer herders who almost fell into it soon after the 2013 eruption. Since the crater was formed in a 2013 blowout, its size rapidly increased at least 15 times during the next year and a half. It is expected to be even wider now but no recent scientific surveys have been made to the remote site.
Our pictures show the so-called Deryabinsky crevice in snow soon after it was formed, when the hole was some four metres in width, and the latest known pictures which illustrate how it is now a lake, some 70 metres in diameter.
Alexander Sokolov is head of ecological R&D station of the Institute of Ecology of Plants and Animals of the Ural Department of the RAS in Labytnangi, Tyumen region.
Ehrich is a researcher at the University of Tromso, The Arctic University of Norway.
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