Revealing the mystery behind the giant "death hole" in Siberia

Scientists believe the “sinkholes” are a worrying sign of massive changes in the Arctic, which could have dire consequences on a global scale.

The massive methane explosion that rocked the frozen Siberian tundra in 2020 left a giant wormhole in the ground.

This is the 17th “sink hole” found on the Yamal and Gyda peninsulas in the Russian Arctic. The first crater was discovered in 2013, according to CNN.

Initially, scientists believed that the appearance of “sink holes” was related to climate change. Experts used drones, 3D simulations and artificial intelligence to uncover the mystery behind the “sinkhole” in Siberia.

“The hole is exceptionally well preserved (by the weather), the surface water has not yet accumulated to the inner surface of the hole, allowing us to study the hole in an ‘intact’ state,” said Evgeny Chuvilin, experts from the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, said.

This is the first time scientists have been able to send a drone into a hole 10 to 15 meters deep in the ground, allowing to capture the underground space where methane gas accumulates.

The team’s drones took about 80 pictures in the depths of the Siberian crater. Based on these images, scientists built a 3D model of the hole. The reconstruction model shows that the hole has a depth of about 30 m.

Igor Bogoyavlensky, an expert from the Institute of Petroleum and Gas Research, of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said he had to lie right on the crater, reaching inside to control the drone.

“We almost lost the plane three times, but eventually collected enough data to build a 3D model,” Bogoyavlensky said.

Revealing the mystery behind the giant "death hole" in Siberia
“Death Pit” in Siberia. (Photo: Igor Bogoyavlensky).

The 3D model shows that there are gaps like small caves at the bottom of the giant crater. This confirms the scientists’ hypothesis that methane accumulates inside voids under the ice sheet, which in turn creates terrestrial upwellings.

The accumulation of methane pushes the soil above it up. By the time enough methane has accumulated, it will create a huge explosion, blowing away the soil and ice above, leaving a giant hole in the ground.

What is currently unclear is the source of the methane gas . Scientists suspect the methane comes from deeper layers of the earth, or from the soil closer to the surface, or a combination of both.

The Siberian permafrost is a huge reservoir of methane, a greenhouse gas that has far worse effects than the carbon dioxide that causes the Earth to warm.

The permafrost is like a lid that prevents methane from escaping. As summer temperatures increase, especially in the Arctic region, the permafrost layer gradually thins, making it easier for mathane gas to escape.

Some experts estimate the area under the permafrost contains twice as much carbon as the entire Earth’s atmosphere. Therefore, the Siberian region has an extremely important role in the fight against climate change.

“Climate change of course affects the probability of gas craters coming out of the ice in the Arctic permafrost,” Chuvilin said.

Using satellite images, scientists were also able to determine when the methane crater exploded. Scientists believe the crater exploded between May 15 and June 9, 2020. The crater was first discovered from a helicopter on June 16, 2020.

Mr. Chuvilin believes that the timing of the explosion was not random at all.

“It’s a time when the sun’s heat is very strong, causing the snow to melt and the upper layers of the ground to be heated, changing the properties and behavior of the ground,” said Mr. Chuvilin.

Although occurring in very sparsely populated areas, the methane gas wormholes pose a risk to indigenous peoples and to oil and gas infrastructure. These pits are usually only discovered by helicopters or reindeer herders.

Although 17 “death craters” have been discovered in Siberia so far, it is not clear how many have already formed or are forming, or when the next explosion will occur.

Revealing the mystery behind the giant "death hole" in Siberia
The formation of sinkholes is a sign of climate change. (Photo: CNN).

Scientists do not have the tools to detect and map these natural gas craters.

To record changes in the Arctic region, and possibly ultimately help predict the next explosion, scientists have created an algorithm to quantify the height of the outcrops, or the size of the outcrop. lakes in the Yamal and Gyda peninsulas.

The discovery of craters of methane gas is a worrisome sign that Earth’s north pole is undergoing major changes, scientists have found.

About 5% of the total 327,000km 2 studied by scientists had significant changes in the landscape between 1984-2017.

These changes include the disappearance of surface ice, the formation and disappearance of many lakes, and the erosion of many riverbanks.

“These wormholes represent a process previously unknown to scientists,” said Sue Natali, director of the Arctic program at the Woodwell Center for Climate Research.

“The craters and other sudden changes across the Arctic are signs that the Arctic is warming and rapidly melting ice, which could have dire consequences for people here, as well as globally. “ , warned Mrs. Natali.