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article imageFour new huge craters in Siberia spark fears of looming disaster

By JohnThomas Didymus     Feb 24, 2015 in Environment
Novosibirsk - Russian scientists have discovered four new holes in Siberia. The new discoveries have raised fears that rising temperatures due to global warming have triggered a process of methane gas eruptions that could lead to an environmental disaster.
According to the Siberian Times, Russian scientists have found four new holes, and several smaller ones in Siberia, in the same region where other massive craters were spotted last year.
Scientists say they have now found a total of seven holes in the region. Before the latest discoveries, only three holes were known.
According to Professor Vasily Bogoyavlensky, deputy director of Russia's Oil and Gas Research Institute, "We know now of seven craters in the Arctic area. Five are directly on the Yamal peninsula, one in Yamal Autonomous district, and one is on the north of the Krasnoyarsk region, near the Taimyr Peninsula.
"We have exact locations for only four of them. The other three were spotted by reindeer herders. But I am sure that there are more craters on Yamal, we just need to search for them. I would compare this with mushrooms. When you find one mushroom, be sure there are few more around. I suppose there could be 20 to 30 craters more."
The Yamal hole near Bovanenkovo
The Yamal hole near Bovanenkovo
Yamal regional government press service
Scientists have also identified from satellite images two spots close to a previous hole where they believe that fresh gas eruptions could create new massive holes.
Referring to the spots where scientists fear that new holes could appear, Bogoyavlensky said, "These objects need to be studied, but it is rather dangerous for the researchers. We know that there can occur a series of gas emissions over an extended period of time, but we do not know exactly when they might happen."
Scientists have identified spots where new holes could appear
Scientists have identified spots where new holes could appear
Vasily Bogoyavlensky
One of the newly discovered holes was found near Nosok village to the north of Krasnoyarsk region, near Taimyr Peninsula, according to the Siberian Times.
The crater near Nosok village
The crater near Nosok village
Local resident/Siberia Times
Another hole was spotted about 90 kilometers from Antipayuta in the Yamal Peninsular by residents who noticed a bright flash of light in the vicinity.
Crater near Antipayuta village
Crater near Antipayuta village
Local residents/Siberian Times
The observation of a bright flash of light further reinforces the theory that the holes are being caused by eruptions of underground pockets of gas due to rising temperatures of global warming.
Locations of the four new craters
Locations of the four new craters
Vasily Bogoyavlensky
Another massive hole was discovered about 10 kilometers south of Bovanenkovo, where major gas production plants run by Gazprom are located. The hole was found to be surrounded by at least 20 smaller holes. The craters, which have formed lakes, were not found in older satellite images.
Satellite image shows new crater that has formed lake with surrounding network of smaller craters th...
Satellite image shows new crater that has formed lake with surrounding network of smaller craters that have also formed lakes
Vasily Bogoyavlensky
Comparison of old satellite imagery with more recent ones suggests that new craters are being actively formed. This has raised fears of a looming environmental disaster in the region and prompted Professor Bogoyavlensky to make an urgent call for a major scientific investigation of the phenomenon.
Satellite image shows close-up of spot where scientists fear new hole is about to appear
Satellite image shows close-up of spot where scientists fear new hole is about to appear
Vasily Bogoyavlensky
Noting that two of the newly discovered craters have formed lakes, Bogoyavlensky said, "It is important not to scare people, but this is a very serious problem. We must research this phenomenon urgently to prevent possible disasters. We cannot rule out new gas emissions in the Arctic and in some cases they can ignite."
Based on studies of satellite images, Russian scientists believe that there are several other undiscovered holes, at least 30 by some estimates.
But scientists continue to investigate to confirm the theory that the holes are being caused by ongoing climate change as methane gas from below the surface escapes under pressure to the surface.
Apart from the theory that the holes are caused by eruption of underground pockets of methane gas due to increased pressure as temperatures rise, an alternative explanation that has been proposed is that they are caused by melting of accumulated ice below the surface.
But most scientists favor the theory that the holes are caused by methane gas eruption from underground shallow reservoirs. Bogoyavlensky noted that the parapets of many of the craters are suggestive of underground explosion of gas. Scientists have also noticed methane gas bubbling up out of lakes believed to have been formed from previous holes in the Yamal Peninsular region.
Parapets of the crater suggest they were formed by underground gas eruption
Parapets of the crater suggest they were formed by underground gas eruption
Vasily Bogoyavlensky
Overall, there is a growing consensus that geophysical activity involving heating along tectonic fault lines in the Yamal Peninsula could also be contributing to the process. Many scientists now believe that the holes are being caused by a combination of heating from the surface due to global warming and heating below the surface along geological fault lines.
Bogoyavelensky said, "The absence of charred rock and traces of significant erosion due to possible water leaks speaks in favor of mighty eruption (pneumatic exhaust) of gas from a shallow underground reservoir, which left no traces on soil which contained a high percentage of ice. In other words, it was a gas-explosive mechanism that worked there. A concentration of 5-to-16 percent of methane is explosive. The most explosive concentration is 9.5%."
Scientists have taken the risk to climb down some of the holes to collect samples for research. They plan to physically investigate all the craters to understand better what caused them to form.
Russian investigators prepare to descend into the hole
Russian investigators prepare to descend into the hole
Russian Center of Arctic Exploration
Investigators go down one of the craters
Investigators go down one of the craters
Russian Center of Arctic Exploration
Investigators at the bottom of the hole
Investigators at the bottom of the hole
Russian Center of Arctic Exploration
"I think that at the moment we know enough about the crater B1. There were several expeditions, we took probes and made measurements. I believe that we need to visit the other craters, namely B2, B3 and B4, and then visit the rest three craters, when we will know their exact location. It will give us more information and will bring us closer to understanding the phenomenon," Bogoyavlensky said.
More about four new holes, Siberia, Climate change
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