There’s a strange crack in the landscape that is splintering across the frosty depths of Siberia called the Batagaika Crater. The area has long been surrounded in mystery, but scientists are now delving into the history of this geological glitch to discover why it appears to be growing at such an alarming rate.
The 90-meter-deep (300 feet) crater appeared some 25 years ago in the Verkhoyansk district of Siberia, Russia, and measures nearly 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) in length. Along with the Batagaika Crater, there’s thought to be numerous other craters and sinkholes in the surrounding area.
The fissure and craters only appeared in recent decades, after large swathes of forests were cleared for industrial activity. Local residents have branded it as a "gateway to the underworld" and have surrounded the crater with fear and superstitions, The Siberian Times reports. Since it is found in a remote region of one of Earth’s coldest corners, the origin of the crater has remained relatively unknown. A recent expedition, however, has found it’s growing and it's looking like climate change is the culprit.
Professor Julian Murton from the University of Sussex, who led the expedition and is doing an ongoing study of the crater, found that soil deep in the crater is actually 200,000 years old, 80,000 years older than previously estimated. Within the millennia of geological records shown in the soil layers, the researchers also gained an insight into the history of this mysterious corner of the planet.
They found that the crater is currently undergoing a dramatic "megaslump", further growing at a rate of over 18 meters (60 feet) every year. Locals have even reported strange “booms from the underworld” that have been attributed to the recent geological activity. This slumping, a thawing of ice-rich permafrost, is more rapid than any similar geological event in the past 10,000 years, Professor Murton told Motherboard. He went on to explain that the cause is likely to be a warming climate thawing the surrounding permafrost.
Further information is still required for scientists to fully understand this mysterious crater. Murton hopes to conduct future research that will take samples of the permafrost in a bid to shed more light onto the surrounding environment and its long history.