A bizarre perfectly-cylindrical hole has appeared in northern Siberia. Some 160 feet deep, the remarkable phenomenon was spotted by chance in late July when a TV crew flew over it on their way back from reporting on an unrelated story.
Blocks of soil and ice were thrown hundreds of yards when the crater formed. Scientists believe the mysterious holes – which have begun appearing all over Siberia, are a symptom of climate change.
As the permafrost thaws, pockets of methane gas which have been trapped underground for tens of thousands of years are suddenly released.
This, the seventeenth such crater, is the biggest yet.
Dr Evgeny Chuvilin, a leading researcher at Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, told the Siberian Times : ‘What we saw today is striking in its size and grandeur.
‘These are the colossal forces of nature that create such objects.’
Professor Vasily Bogoyavlensky, of the Russian Oil and Gas Research Institute in Moscow, told Vesti Yamal TV news: “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,” he continued. “We have to analyse all this, and build three-dimensional models.”
He added that he thought drilling for oil and gas in the region could be contributing to the unprecedented eruptions.
In addition, he pointed out the danger if one of these hydrolaccoliths, as scientists call them, erupted beneath a major gas pipeline.
He warns that there are a number of bulges in the earth – pingos – that could one day burst as this one has. If that happened near a major oil or gas ability there’s the potential for a major ecological disaster.
“In a number of areas, pingos – as we see both from satellite data and with our own eyes during helicopter inspections – literally prop up gas pipes,” he said.
Using a combination of satellite images and field studies, researchers have made a count of the pingos. “At first such a bump is a bubble, or ‘bulgunyakh’ in the local Yakut language,” Alexey Titovsky, director of the Yamal department for science and innovation, explained.
“With time the bubble explodes, releasing gas,” he continued “This is how gigantic funnels form.”
He says his team are working on a way of determining which of the bulges is most in danger of bursting: “Scientists are working on detecting and structuring signs of potential threat,” he said, “like the maximum height of a bump and pressure that the earth can withstand.”
It’s thought there could be between 7,000 and 10,000 pingos – not all containing methane – are scattered across the Arctic region.
Vladimir E. Romanovsky, a geophysicist at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, told the Washington Post:“This is really a new thing to permafrost science. It has not been reported in the literature before.”