The wilderness of Siberia has just gotten a lot more mysterious.
Helicopter pilots flying over the Yamal Peninsula have discovered a giant crater-like hole in the Siberian tundra. The hole is reportedly large enough to fit "several" of the very helicopters that discovered it.
The hole, estimated to be 150 to 250 feet across, appears to have been made by some sort of blast, and is thought to be around two years old. It's also about 30 miles from one of the Yamal Peninsula's largest natural gas fields. The Yamal Peninsula is Russia's main production area for gas.
The Russian internet is ablaze with speculation about the origin of the giant hole, from a UFO drilling experiment, to a massive meteor impact.
But one of the more plausible explanations for the giant hole comes from Anna Kurchatova, from the Sub-Arctic Scientific Research Centre in Russia. She told The Siberian Times that the crater was likely formed by a water-salt and gas mixture that caused an underground explosion.
That gas that she is referring to is methane.
Methane is one of the strongest of the natural greenhouse gases, about 80 times more potent than CO2, and while it may not get as much attention as its cousin CO2, it certainly can do as much, if not more, damage to our planet. And right now, there are trillions of tons of it embedded in a kind of ice slurry called methane hydrate or methane clathrate crystals in the Arctic, including in the Siberian tundra, and in the seas around the continental shelves all around the world.
But thanks to global warming, the permafrost and Arctic sea ice, which has trapped that methane gas for thousands of years, are melting, releasing methane into the atmosphere. In the case of the giant crater, Kurchatova believes that it was melted and released methane that interacted with other elements to cause a massive explosion.
If so, we can expect to start seeing a lot more of these giant craters to start popping up around the world. That's because the permafrost and Arctic sea ice that currently trap trillions of tons of methane underground are melting at unprecedented rates.
In fact, as Gaius Publius points out over at America Blog, just about every reputable projection on the loss of Arctic sea ice has been wrong in a very, very bad way.
The lack of sea ice cover in the Arctic that we're seeing today wasn't supposed to happen for 20+ more years according to 13 of the most accurate models. As all that sea ice melts, the Arctic ice which once reflected sunlight and prevented global warming, becomes a very blue ocean that absorbs heat and causes even more melting.
And this all means that more and more methane is being released into the atmosphere much faster than expected, speeding up the process of global warming and climate change.
Meanwhile, Researchers at the University of Alaska Fairbanks International Arctic Research Center have found that Arctic methane is leaking out from the ocean floor nearly twice as fast as was previously thought.
The researchers found that the East Siberian Arctic Shelf is releasing at least 17 million tons of methane into the atmosphere each year.
As Malcolm Light writes over at Arctic News, and as I talked about in the documentary Last Hours, there are such large amounts of methane trapped underneath the Arctic surface, that if only a fraction of that methane was released, it could lead to a jump in the average temperature of the Earth's atmosphere of at least 10 degrees Celsius, and produce a Permian-like mass extinction which would wipe out the human race.
Basically, the methane that is trapped underground in the Arctic is like a giant ticking time bomb, and if it goes off, we're all screwed.
Unless we start seriously fighting back against global warming and climate change, giant craters in the Siberian wilderness will be the least of our worries.