Underground Methane Is Making The Russian Tundra Wobble Like Jello

Scientists discovered 15 'bubbles' filled with methane and CO2. Aleksander Sokolov/Vesti

A curious phenomenon has been witnessed on Bely Island, north Russia. Underground methane bubbles are surfacing, making the soil wobble rather peculiarly.

This phenomenon is a consequence of climate change. The Russian tundra is in a state of permafrost, where the deeper layers of soil, rock, and sediments are frozen. Due to global warming, the permafrost is thawing, which leads to a release of gas trapped in the ground.

Researchers Aleksander Sokolov from the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) and Dorothee Ehrich from the University of Tromso in Norway led a scientific expedition on Bely Island and discovered 15 patches of the trembling, grass-covered ground, probably related to a 20-day-long abnormal heat wave.

The phenomenon has been linked to the craters that are spontaneously forming in the nearby Yamal Peninsula, which form when natural gas fills the cavity left by thawing ice and then erupts. Although methane is the culprit of the bubbling, the researchers do not think it is from ancient gas deposits like the craters.

“I think that this is the activity of bacteria/former faunas from [the soil], not much deeper than a couple of meters,” Dr Sokolov told IFLScience.

“I do not think that the methane was from ancient geological times, as in the gas field in Sabetta [in the Yamal peninsula]. We also worked in Sabetta in the last couple of years, but we did not find bubbles like in Bely Island.”

The team is currently carrying out new explorations of the island to better understand these bubbles and their potential dangers. Although they release carbon dioxide and methane, the bubbles do not put animals and people in immediate danger, although they might give some a fright.

“The only thing could be, if a reindeer stepped on such a bubble, that could be a rather strong sound, and the animal could be afraid of it for several seconds,” joked Dr Sokolov.

The team plans to locate the depth from which the methane is released from, as well as estimating if the phenomenon could have an impact on global warming and finding out what makes Bely Island special that they occur here.

“The ‘great’ thing with our observation is that we have walked many hundreds of kilometers in tundra before and never found such things!” Dr Sokolov added.

As permafrost comprises 24 percent of the land in the Northern Hemisphere, assessing the amount of greenhouse gasses trapped in the soil and how much they might be released could help us better plan for the future.

[H/T: Siberian Times]

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