Scientists from Newcastle University are investigating the mysterious appearance of giant exploding craters in the Siberian permafrost, first identified in 2012. These craters, exceeding 160 feet in depth and 65 feet in width, have puzzled researchers, with some reports indicating audible blasts up to 60 miles away.
The scientists propose a new explanation, suggesting that hot natural gas from underground reserves may be causing the explosions. The study’s lead author, Professor Helge Hellevang, notes that the craters are specific to certain areas in Siberia, known for vast underground natural gas reserves.
The research challenges previous assumptions that methane from thawing permafrost itself was responsible for the craters, suggesting instead that hot natural gas from geological faults is heating the permafrost from below.
Permafrost, rich in organic material, releases methane as it thaws due to rising temperatures. While methane release was initially considered the cause of the craters, the localized nature of these explosions remained unexplained.
The researchers propose that hot natural gas, seeping through geological faults, accumulates beneath the frozen soil, weakening the permafrost from below. This process, distinct from the methane release from thawing permafrost, could lead to explosive bursts and the formation of the craters.
The study indicates that the Western Siberian Yamal and Gydan peninsulas in Northern Russia are particularly prone to these explosions due to the presence of extensive natural gas reserves in the region.
The researchers’ hypothesis, published on the online server EarthArXiv, suggests that more craters may have been created and subsequently disappeared as nearby water and soil filled the gaps.
However, the study’s findings are yet to undergo peer review. If validated, this hypothesis could have implications for climate models, as the craters may act as chimneys releasing large amounts of methane – a potent greenhouse gas – into the atmosphere.
While the potential impact on a global scale remains uncertain, the researchers stress the need to understand the natural methane leakage from such systems before assessing the contribution of these explosions to atmospheric methane levels.