Siberia exploding
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2017-03-22 11:08:03 UTC
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7,000 Huge Gas Bubbles Have Formed Under Siberia, and Could Explode at Any Moment

What happens when the permafrost thaws.

Last year, researchers in Siberia's remote Bely Island made the bizarre discovery that the ground had started bubbling in certain places, and was squishy under the locals' feet like jelly.

At the time, just 15 of these swollen bubbles had been identified, but an investigation in the wider region of the Yamal and Gydan peninsulas has revealed that 7,000 or so of them have cropped up, and the concern now is that they could explode at any moment.

"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, told The Siberia Times.

"With time, the bubble explodes, releasing gas. This is how gigantic funnels form."

Those gigantic funnels Titovsky is referring to are every bit as intimidating as they sound.

While collapsed bubbles can form fairly small 'pockmarks' in the ground, they've also been linked to the massive sinkholes and craters that have been appearing across Siberia:

Now picture thousands of these death traps dotted across the landscape, with each of the 7,000 newly identified bubbles poised to explode without warning.

So what exactly is going on here?

Back in 2016, local environmental researchers Alexander Sokolov and Dorothee Ehrich decided to pull back the dirt and grass that had been blanketing these bulging bumps of earth, and found that the air escaping from them contained up to 1,000 times more methane than the surrounding air, and 25 times more carbon dioxide.

And things can get even weirder at the bottom of the biggest sinkholes - a 2014 investigation into a 30-metre-wide (98-foot) crater on the Yamal Peninsula found that air near the bottom of the crater contained unusually high concentrations of methane - up to 9.6 percent.

As Katia Moskvitch reported for Nature at the time, archaeologist Andrei Plekhanov from the Scientific Centre of Arctic Studies in Salekhard, Russia, told her that the surrounding air usually contains just 0.000179 percent methane.

Researchers have hypothesised that these methane bubbles are linked to a recent heatwave that had prompted the Siberian tundra's permafrost to thaw.

Siberia's permafrost has become famous for its ability to keep things perfectly preserved for thousands of years, such as this amazing 12,400-year-old puppy, or these adorable lion cubs, which still had their tawny fur coats on after 30,000 years.

A 2013 study found that a global temperature rise of 1.5°C would be enough to kickstart an unprecedented period of melting, but thanks to abnormally hot summers linked to climate change, local researchers suspect that this is already starting to occur, with daily temperatures in July 2016 hitting a worrying 35°C (95°F).

"Their appearance at such high latitudes is most likely linked to thawing permafrost, which in is in turn linked to overall rise of temperature on the north of Eurasia during last several decades," a spokesperson for the Ural branch of Russian Academy of Science told The Siberian Times.

We're still waiting on some peer-reviewed research to come from these investigations so we can know more about the evidence scientists are using to link methane bubbles to climate change, but it looks like the unique geology that makes up the Siberian tundra also plays a big role in the phenomenon.

According to Vasily Bogoyavlensky from the Russian Academy of Sciences, who has been studying these bubbles for years now, the earth here has been dated to the Cenomanian era of the Late Cretaceous epoch (100.5 to 93.9 million years ago) and has been identified as an ancient, shallow gas reservoir, situated just 500 to 1,200 metres (1,640 to 3,937 feet) below the surface.

"Gas rising to the surface through the systems of faults and cracks causes overpressure in the palaeo-permafrost clay layers, and breaks through the weakened parts of it, forming the gas springs and blowout craters," Bogoyavlensky wrote in a 2015 edition of GEO ExPro magazine.

"Basically, after a long period of growth, the upper part of the 'pingo' (the soil covering the ice core) cracks, and the ice core melts, forming a round lake. It is known that sometimes these ice mounds explode under excessive ice pressure."

Here's an image of one bubble found by Bogoyavlensky that has swelled immensely:

And here's what it looks like if you find one small enough to step on:

The good news is that through all of this, there are several research teams out on the tundra studying this weird phenomenon, so hopefully we'll have some definitive answers soon.

To reiterate what we said earlier, published research on these bubbles is still forthcoming, and Titovsky in particular says he's not done with his field investigation yet, so we'll have to take these conclusions with a grain of salt until the results are verified.

But the priority right now is for researchers to identify which bubbles pose a threat to the locals, and provide a map highlighting the potential explosion 'hot spots'.

"We need to know which bumps are dangerous and which are not," Titovsky told The Siberian Times.

"Scientists are working on detecting and structuring signs of potential threat, like the maximum height of a bump and pressure that the earth can withstand. Work will continue all through 2017."

MORE: http://www.sciencealert.com/7-000-huge-gas-bubbles-have-formed-under-siberia-and-could-explode-at-any-moment
2017-08-01 13:48:51 UTC
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Mysterious craters blowing out of Russia could mean trouble for the whole planet

In northern Siberia, rising temperatures are causing mysterious giant craters — and even more dire consequences could be in store, say climate scientists.

The Russian province's long-frozen ground, called permafrost, is thawing, triggering massive changes to the region's landscape and ecology. It could even threaten human lives.

"The last time we saw a permafrost melting was 130,000 years ago. It's a natural phenomenon because of changes in the earth's orbit," said professor of earth sciences at the University of Oxford, Dr. Gideon Henderson.

"But what is definitely unprecedented is the rate of warming. The warming that happened 130,000 years ago happened over thousands of years … What we see happening now is warming over decades or a century."

We are therefore seeing a much more rapid collapse of the permafrost, Henderson said.

Global warming — but faster

It's clear that the thawing permafrost has an important effect on the climate, Henderson said.

Under normal conditions, permafrosts regulate the amount of carbon in the environment by taking up and storing significant portions of carbon that humans release from burning fossil fuel.

In the case of Siberia, this equation is being reversed.

"When [permafrosts] release carbon, it will accelerate the rate of warming in the future," Henderson said. A self-reinforcing feedback loop is created whereby warming releases more carbon, which in turn produces greater warming.
Methane is 86 times worse than carbon dioxide

Since 2014, several massive sinkholes have been discovered in the region. The first one reportedly measured over 50 ft wide.

There are several hypotheses on how the craters are formed, but none of them has been proven, according to Dr. Vladimir Romanovsky, professor of geophysics at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

"All these hypotheses, though, use the fact that temperature in the region is increasing," Romanovsky said.

The formation of these crater-like holes could have crucial ramifications for Siberia's community and the environment at large.

One theory suggests that the holes are created when trapped gases explode. Carbon dioxide and methane, both greenhouse gases, are released in the process.

According to conventional estimates, methane warms the planet by 34 times as much as carbon dioxide over 100 years. But such estimates ignore the fact that atmospheric methane decomposes into carbon dioxide, a less potent greenhouse gas, after 10 to 20 years.

Over a 20-year period, methane's warming potential is 86 times that of carbon dioxide, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

It's still a question if the formation of these craters contributes significant amounts of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, researchers say.

"There is no estimate for how much methane is released into the atmosphere because we don't know how" such craters are formed, Romanovsky said.

According to Henderson, scientists are also uncertain about the rate and types of gases ejected – specifically, whether methane decomposes into carbon dioxide before or after its release.
'The railway collapses, the roads fall apart'

The thaw is already adversely affecting the lives of northern Siberia's residents.

"People in permafrost regions rely on frozen ground for their infrastructure," Henderson said. "As the ground melts, the railway collapses, the roads fall apart, the buildings sink into the ground … It's happening already."

Threats to infrastructure will increase as melting continues, and can pose a problem to major industrial areas including oil and gas fields, he added.

And if it's true that gas explosions are creating the craters, such an event can kill people, said Romanovsky.

In Russia, the government and companies, especially gas extraction firms, are providing funds for further research into this phenomenon, according to Romanovsky.

SOURCE: http://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/world/mysterious-craters-blowing-out-of-russia-could-mean-trouble-for-the-whole-planet/ar-AApdOYA