Deadly Russian Cocktail
In the far reaches of the Siberian north in a remote are of the Yamal peninsula an enormous sinkhole was discovered. The cause, a deadly Russian cocktail of sorts. Anna Kurchatova from Sub-Arctic Scientific Research Centre thinks the crater was formed by a water, salt and gas mixture igniting an underground explosion, the result of global warming. She postulates that gas accumulated in ice mixed with sand beneath the surface, and that this was mixed with salt, when combined can cause an explosion. Possible evidence of this can be seen in the perimeter of the sinkhole.
Possible Serious Consequences
The Yamal peninsula is a very young place, some areas being only 10,000 years old. The Yamal Peninsula stretches some seven hundred kilometres into the Arctic Ocean from the Russian mainland below the Arctic Circle. Known to it’s indigenous inhabitants as ‘the end of the land‘. It’s here in the beautiful landscape that the sinkhole was found. During the course of my investigations I found that this type of event or similar events has occurred before. The very tundra that gets it’s stability from the permafrost has started to collapse. These occurrences have been emptying lakes of their water creating giant gulleys. What is most worrisome is the methane that is trapped underground is being released into the atmosphere with possible serious consequences.
Anatoliy Hoodi who is a Nenet along with his family live near a lake in the region. Two years ago he and his family heard what sounded like a gas explosion and a deep rumble of what sounded like ground collapsing. When they went to the lake they found the level had dropped by several meters. Along with this they found hundreds of dead fish surrounding the lake. Could this be a similar event caused the huge chasm that was found. So what really causes these events in the first place?
The formation of a Pingo is explained by Parks Canada:
When a pingo is growing, the ground stretches to accommodate its increasing surface area. The tundra splits apart in places, forming cracks – usually along the length of the pingo, especially near its summit – that may reach down as far as the ice core. If these cracks are large enough, the top of a pingo will resemble a crater. Sometimes water ponds in the crater, and this may begin to melt the ice core. More commonly, uplift of the sides of the pingo creates steep slopes that may become unstable and begin to erode. If the ice is exposed to the sun, the core will begin to melt. As its main support melts away, the pingo collapses. When the ice core has completely melted, all that remains is a doughnut-shaped ring of raised tundra enclosing a small round lake. In warmer regions, such as Ireland and the Netherlands, remnants of collapsed pingos have helped scientists determine that the climate was once cold enough in these areas to support a permafrost environment.
How Thermokarst Sinkholes Form
Thermokarst is known as the forming of a landscape due to melting of permafrost ground. It can be caused by human activity or nature itself. Agriculture, deforestation or the construction of buildings as well as natural erosion most commonly lead to thermokarst, since the insulating layer of vegetation is being removed. The size of the formed landscape is inevitably connected with the amount of ice beneath the surface.
Thermokarst is an indicator of a warming climate since rising temperatures cause the permafrost ground to thaw. Between 1954 and 2003 the annual average temperature in the arctic regions has risen about 1 °C. The recorded average temperature in the wintertime show an increase of about 2 to 4 °C. The warmer the temperatures get the deeper the soil thaws and the active layer thickens. Thus the integrity of the soil is no longer guaranteed and can therefore lead to detachment slides on slopes.
Along with rising temperatures comes an increase of precipitation. The melting water of the thawing permafrost and the rainwater start pooling in small sinks or valleys. The presence of warmer water on the surface compared to the temperature of the underlying ground causes melting of the ice and the process of thermokarst begins.
Small ponds and later larger lakes form out of the melting water on the surface as the water cannot drain away through the deeper frozen ground. Sometimes this accumulation of water takes place in caverns under the surface. Since the caverns are not stable the peril of collapse is immense. Once collapsed the everything on the surface is being absorbed by the water.
The landscape which remains after this process is characterized by chaoticly arranged sinkholes, tunnels, caverns and hummocks (small hills). This landscape is called thaw settlement or thermokarst terrain.
Most Plausible Cause of Sinkhole
[snip] . . . “the most likely cause put forward by scientists so far involves a buildup of an underground gas pocket that ignited. If it was formed through natural means, then that would point to a melting of permafrost or an enormous ice block, possibly caused by the recent warming of the Arctic region. However some suggest that it’s not coincidental that the area hosts one of the richest gas reservoirs in Russia, and possibly there was an ongoing buildup of underground gas until increasing pressure simply caused the ground to blow its top.”
So I will leave you with a short video that shares more about the sinkhole.