The Siberian crater saga is more widespread — and scarier — than anyone thought

In the middle of last summer came news of a bizarre occurrence no one could explain. Seemingly out of nowhere, a massive crater appeared in one of the planet’s most inhospitable lands. Early estimates said the crater, nestled in a land called “the ends of the Earth” where temperatures can sink far below zero, yawned nearly 100 feet in diameter.

The saga deepened. The Siberian crater wasn’t alone. There were two more, ratcheting up the tension in a drama that hit its climax as a probable explanation surfaced. Global warming had thawed the permafrost, which had caused methane trapped inside the icy ground to explode. “Gas pressure increased until it was high enough to push away the overlaying layers in a powerful injection, forming the crater,” one German scientist said at the time.

Now, however, researchers fear there are more craters than anyone knew — and the repercussions could be huge. Russian scientists have now spotted a total of seven craters, five of which are in the Yamal Peninsula. Two of those holes have since turned into lakes. And one giant crater is rimmed by a ring of at least 20 mini-craters.

One potential disaster relates to the explosions themselves. No one has been hurt in any of the blasts, but given the size of some of the craters, it’s fair to say the methane bursts are huge. Researchers are nervous about even studying them.

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