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Gateway to the underworld' may be worse than we think

By Karen Graham     Jun 19, 2016 in Environment
Massive craters or "slumps" are growing like a pox across the Northern Hemisphere. One of the largest, in a Siberian forest, has become a "megaslump," a mile long and 400 feet deep. Locals call it the "gateway to the underworld."
The megaslump in the heart of Siberia's boreal forest is called the Batagaika crater. It first appeared 25 years ago and, as it has grown, it gives the appearance that the land is turning itself inside-out.
The kilometer (o.62 mile) long crevasse is now 90 meters (295 feet) deep, and over 400 feet deep in some places. It is widening at a rate of 20 meters (66 feet) a year. Frightened locals stay away from the huge gash in the Earth, believing it is the opening to the gates of hell.
While the crevasse may not really be the gate to the underworld, scientists say we should be afraid, and as the Independent puts it, it could represent an ominous sign of things to come as the world continues to warm.
A harbinger of things to come?
The Batagaika crater, in the Yakutia region of Russia, started forming after an industrial facility in the 1990s allegedly cut a parcel of forest, not realizing the clearing of the land would set off a catastrophic geologic and environmental event, says Motherboard.
As climate change and its impact worsened, in Yakutia, one of the coldest places on Earth, heat waves crept across the region, exposing and melting the glacial ice that had not been seen in over 200,000 years. The land buckled and crumbled as the area began to slump.
The Batagaika crater is now being called a "megaslump" by scientists. It is a “thermokarst,” in the geomorphology in the permafrost. Thermokarst is a form of periglacial topography resembling karst, with hollows produced by the selective melting of permafrost.
These craters appear as the permafrost is allowed to thaw rapidly, causing scar zones that sink into the "saturated slurry." Scientists say that while the appearance of slumps can be terrifying, the thaw slumps are fairly typical of Arctic environments.
Craters abound as permafrost thaws
"As the climate warms – I think there’s no shadow of a doubt it will warm – we will get increasing thaw of the permafrost and... there will be more slumps and more gullying, more erosion of the land surface," explained Professor Julian Murton, a geologist at the University of Sussex who has recently visited Batagaika crater to study its features, reports Mother Nature News.
Prof. Murton foresees the crevasse growing to the point that "it runs out of ice or becomes buried by slumped sediment" He also believes we will be seeing more megaslumps as the Earth continues to warm. While the sheer size of the crevasse is frightening, Murton has been down inside the bottom of the huge gash in the Earth.
There, as much as 400 feet below the surface, paleogeologists can get a unique view of Siberia's history during the ice age. Murton and his colleagues have found a mummified carcass of a bison within the sediment, as well as the frozen remains of a musk ox, a mammoth and a 4,400-year-old Holocene-era horse.
“The Batagaika site contains a remarkably thick sequence of permafrost deposits, which include two wood-rich layers interpreted as forest beds that indicate past climates about as warm or warmer than today's climate," says Murton.
Like an epidemic of the pox, craters are popping up all over northern Russia’s Krasnoyarsk region. The craters are literally exploding from the ground, and scientists blame the unseasonal warmth caused by climate change. The last time Siberia saw slumping in this magnitude was 10,000 years ago, according to Murton, as the Earth transitioned from the Paleolithic Ice Age into the current-day Holocene.
More about magaslumps, gatewy to the underworld, Climate change, northern hemisphere, Permafrost
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