MAR 16, 2015 9:12 PM PDT

A "Hole" Lot Of Trouble Brewing In Siberia

WRITTEN BY: Andrew J. Dunlop
Have you ever seen one of those those links you can click on along the bottom of an online article that says something like "Mystery sinkholes in Russia baffle scientists"? It's usually right next to a You Tube link for something like: "best video of a UFO ever taken!" Well, it turns out, they're real. The sinkholes, that is. They're in Siberia, and for years they've had residents and even some scientists stumped. They appear, seemingly out of nowhere, sometimes in a massive explosion, leaving massive holes. Most of them are about two hundred fifty feet across and about a hundred feet deep; the biggest is a quarter mile wide!

So what's causing these mystery craters? There have been theories a-plenty proposed, ranging from explosions from nearby gas fields to meteorites to missile strikes. Vasily Bogoyavlensky, the deputy director of the Oil and Gas Research Institute, at the Russian Academy of Sciences is pretty sure he and his team have the answer. But it's not good news: the cause is most likely global warming. And unfortunately, they more they understand, the worse the information gets.

The average ground temperature in Siberia has gone up by about four degrees over the last ten years. And unfortunately for all of the life forms currently living on earth, that's just enough of a rise to start melting the permafrost. As the permafrost melts, methane that has been trapped there gets released and forms pockets. These pockets grow until they burst through to the surface, usually in the form of an explosion. "The phenomenon is similar to the eruption of a volcano," Bogoyavlensky says.

It's not the explosions that are the most dangerous aspect of this phenomenon. It's the fact that methane is being released in such massive quantities from the permafrost all over Siberia. Methane is 72 times more effective than carbon dioxide when it comes to holding in heat from the sun. Scientists are concerned that this release of massive amounts of methane that had been heretofore sequestered in permafrost all over the world is most likely creating a feedback loop in which the methane that gets released due to warming of the permafrost is causing more warming, which releases more methane... and so on, and so on, and so on...

So, what's happening to these giant holes in the ground? Well, as you might imagine, they're filling with water, turning into lakes. And at the rate the Siberian permafrost is thawing, it looks like they're about to get a lot of new lakes.

(Source: The New Yorker)
About the Author
Andrew J. Dunlop lives and writes in a little town near Boston. He's interested in space, the Earth, and the way that humans and other species live on it.
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