Numerous newly discovered massive craters across Siberia—believed to have been formed by methane gas exploding through a thawing permafrost—may be the latest visible signs that climate change is here, and it's changing the very contours of the earth's surface.
A 100-foot crater was first spotted last summer in Yamal peninsula, a freezing cold land 2,000 miles north of Moscow, and two other funnels were discovered soon after.
While it is not entirely clear what caused the blowholes, the dominant theory, as summarized by Washington Post writer Terrence McCoy, is: "Global warming had thawed the permafrost, which had caused methane trapped inside the icy ground to explode."
In a new development, the Siberian Times reported this week that such funnels, in fact, are "more widespread than was first realized."
"We know now of seven craters in the Arctic area," Professor Vasily Bogoyavlensky, deputy director of the Moscow-based Oil and Gas Research Institute, part of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told the paper. "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."
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In addition, satellite images reveal that one large hole is surrounded by up to 20 "mini-craters," the Siberian Times notes. Many more yet-undiscovered craters are believed to still be out there, say researchers.
"It is important not to scare people, but to understand that it is a very serious problem and we must research this," said Bogoyavlensky. "We must research this phenomenon urgently, to prevent possible disasters."
As McCoy points out, the bursts of methane—a highly flammable gas—are themselves dangerous, and many researchers are frightened to study the funnels as a result.
However, perhaps most alarming is what the funnels reveal about the rising temperature the Arctic, which is heating twice as fast as the rest of the planet.