Nov 18, 2014 12:16 PM EST
Earlier this past summer when a mysterious giant crater was discovered in northern Siberia's Yamal Peninsula, many believed the phenomenon to be far too strange to be a natural occurrence. Ironically named "Yamal" which means "the end of the world", much skepticism surrounded early news of the phenomenon. And when images hit the web a myriad of theories abounded, leading viewers to throw reason to the wind claiming that the crater was either a man-made hoax, a site for a meteorite crash, or even the workings of an alien UFO.
But when two more strange sinkholes appeared in a nearby region of northern Russia, scientists decided to join the conversation, and what they're saying is that while the phenomenon is likely explainable by simple science, it may also be related to a strange urban legend much like those posited on the web.
Leading a team of researchers from Trofimuk Institute of Petroleum-Gas Geology and Geophysics, accompanied by a medic and a professional climber, scientist Vladimir Pushkarev with the Russian Center of Arctic Exploration and his fellow researchers descended into the massive crater in hopes of finding an answer to the mystery. Battling temperatures of 12oF (-11oC) at the bottom of the 54-foot-deep crater, the team with the Russian Center of Arctic Exploration had to work quickly to search out evidence in the tundra's dense permafrost.
"We took all the probes we planned, and made all of our measurements" Pushkarev says. "Now, scientists just need time to process all the data; and only then can we draw conclusions."
However, just because the team has yet to analyze all the data, does not mean that they don't have theories as to what led to the massive crater. Looking to the mysteries of the Bermuda Triangle in the Atlantic Ocean, researchers believe that a similar occurrence with gas hydrates may have caused the sinkhole in northern Siberia. Typically frozen in ice-like forms across Siberia's dense permafrost, gas hydrates contain many volatile gases, most notably methane. And as the crater lies only 25 miles from the region's largest natural gas field, the researchers believe that gas hydrates may have been the culprits to create the giant hole.
"The main element - and this is our working theory to explain the Yamal crater - was a release of gas hydrates" Pushkarev says. "It turned out that there are gas hydrates both in the deep layer, which on the peninsula is several hundred meters down, and on the layer close to the surface. There might be another factor, or factors that could have provoked the air clap, and each of the factors added up and gas exploded - leading to the appearance of the crater."
While the peninsula is seismically quiet, the team believes that increased heat from the tectonic plates below, in addition to the warm climate of the warming summer sun, added to the heating conditions that may have set off the chain-reaction explosion that gave rise to the crater.
And while two more sinkholes have mysteriously popped up since the discovery of the original Yamal Peninsula crater in early July, researchers say that the general public has nothing to fear. And that the likelihood of more craters appearing is not likely, especially in the freezing cold of Russia's encroaching winter.
"As of now we don't see anything dangerous in the sudden appearance of such holes" Pushkarev says. "but we've got to study them properly to make absolutely sure we understand the nature of their appearance, and don't need to be afraid of them."
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