Remember those mysterious craters that appeared in northern Russia last July? As it turns out, satellite imagery has revealed there are four large craters and likely dozens of additional smaller craters as well. Due to the large impact of these craters, scientists are trying to understand how these craters form so they may predict their occurrence in the future in order to preserve human life and property.
These craters have sparked international interest among geologists. Vasily Bogoyavlensky from the Russian Academy of Sciences spoke to The Siberian Times about what the scientific community currently believes is causing these mysterious craters, as well as what the next steps for the research will be.
“We know now of seven craters in the Arctic area. Five are directly on the Yamal peninsula, one in Yamal Autonomous district, and one is on the north of the Krasnoyarsk region, near the Taimyr peninsula," Bogoyavlensky told Anna Liesowska of The Siberian Times. “We have exact locations for only four of them. The other three were spotted by reindeer herders. But I am sure that there are more craters on Yamal, we just need to search for them. I would compare this with mushrooms: when you find one mushroom, be sure there are few more around. I suppose there could be 20 to 30 craters more.”
Image credit: Vasily Bogoyavlensky via The Siberian Times
With the prospect of substantially more craters in the area, the fact that their true cause isn't known is somewhat problematic. Without knowing exactly what causes these deep craters, it is impossible to predict where the next one might appear. Considering each crater can reach depths of 70 meters (230 ft) with a diameter of 600 meters (2,000 feet), understanding where they will appear is critical to protecting life and property for those living in northern Russia. Unfortunately, performing the necessary research is a lengthy and risky process.
“These objects need to be studied, but it is rather dangerous for the researchers. We know that there can occur a series of gas emissions over an extended period of time, but we do not know exactly when they might happen,” he cautioned.
One crater was thoroughly explored last November, and preliminary results seem to suggest that gas emissions were responsible for creating these holes. It is likely that pockets of natural gas that had been trapped in the soil due to permafrost began to increase in pressure as the ground thawed. At a certain point, there is an explosion of soil that releases that pressure. While this wouldn't be much of a problem in a remote area, this could be extremely disastrous if one occurred under a school or other populated region.
Image credit: Vladimir Pushkarev/Russian Centre of Arctic Exploration via Siberian Times
“Years of experience has shown that gas emissions can cause serious damage to drilling rigs, oil and gas fields and offshore pipelines. Yamal craters are inherently similar to pockmarks. We cannot rule out new gas emissions in the Arctic and in some cases they can ignite,” Bogoyavlensky concluded in The Siberian Times. “We need to answer now the basic questions: what areas and under what conditions are the most dangerous? These questions are important for safe operation of the northern cities and infrastructure of oil and gas complexes.”