A 50-metre deep crater opened up on Siberia's Arctic tundra - it could be because of climate change

Business Insider US
A general view taken on August 25, 2014 shows a crater on the Yamal Peninsula, northern Siberia.
  • A colossal, 50-metre deep crater which has suddenly opened up on Siberia's Arctic tundra could be the result of a climate change-induced explosion, scientists say.
  • The giant crater was discovered by a Russian television crew earlier this summer who were flying over the Yamal peninsula in Siberia on an unrelated assignment.
  • A team of scientists, who have been studying these types of craters for years, say it could be the result of a huge explosion that was caused by the build of methane underneath the ground.
  • The explosions can occur when methane builds up in underground pockets, which then bubble up due to thawing permafrost.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

A massive 50-metre deep crater that has suddenly opened up on Siberia's Arctic tundra could result from a climate change-induced explosion, scientists studying these formations have said.

The crater was accidentally discovered by a Russian film crew earlier this summer as they were flying over the Yamal peninsula in Siberia on an unrelated assignment.

A group of scientists, who have since visited the site, said that the hole most likely formed because of a huge explosion caused by the build of methane underneath the ground — a process otherwise known as cryovolcanism.

"As of now, there is no exhaustive theory for the formation of these craters," Evgeny Chuvilin, a lead research scientist at Russia's Skoltech Center for Hydrocarbon Recovery who studied a similar crater found in the same the region two years ago, told Newsweek.

"The explosive events behind them are too rare and too hard to catch in the act to study properly: a fresh crater usually 'lives' for just one to two years, and these are remote areas with little observation, although that has been changing due to remote sensing and exploration of Yamal," he added.

Two-thirds of the Russian territory consists of permafrost, which is a huge natural reservoir of the potent greenhouse gas, methane.

Scientists believe that methane gets trapped within deep pockets of unfrozen ground, called "cryopegs."

The built-up methane puts an immense amount of pressure on the ground, so once the permafrost over it begins to thaw, it becomes unstable and can cause massive explosions. 

As temperatures rise across the world and the climate warms, melting permafrost is becoming more common and therefore leading to more crater formations, the scientists say.

"Climate change might also be one factor in these cryovolcanic processes, as excessive warming in the top permafrost layer can arguably contribute to these explosions. But this is still something that requires a lot of careful research," said Chuvilin, according to Newsweek.

The crater is at least the ninth of its kind spotted in the region since 2013.

Chuvilin and his team have been going down these craters for several years to determine how they form.

But the scientists must do their work — which requires ascending down the holes with climbing gear — as quickly as possible, as the craters usually turn into lakes within two years, CNN reported.

"The main issue with these craters is how incredibly fast, geologically, they form and how short-lived they are before they turn into lakes," Chuvilin said, according to CNN. "Finding one in the remote Arctic is always a stroke of luck for scientists."

Chuvilin, who says the newest crater is one of the biggest they've found so far, promised that his team would publish more detailed information on the natural phenomenon in an upcoming scientific journal. 

Read the original article on Insider

Receive a daily update on your cellphone with all our latest news: click here.

Get the best of our site emailed to you daily: click here.

Also from Business Insider South Africa:

Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo