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'Lake Baikal: the very name fills Russian hearts with awe'
Mike Carter, The Observer

Now Siberian craters could provide energy of future

By Anna Liesowska
20 November 2014

High levels of ‘fire ice’ trapped in permafrost may turn Russia into a global leader of new gas sources.

It is thought permafrost at the sites could have one million times more methane hydrates locked inside than ordinary gas. Picture: Vladimir Pushkarev/Russian Centre of Arctic Exploration

A new highly efficient energy source of the future could be harnessed from deep inside the craters appearing across Siberia.

Scientists from Novosibirsk have already carried out tests at the Yamal Peninsula on behalf of Gazprom, with elevated levels of a gas known as 'fire ice' found locked in the permafrost.

Japan, Canada and the United States have all ploughed millions of dollars into research projects to uncover and utilise global reserves of methane hydrate, as oil and coal dwindle. But now the discovery of the compound within the Siberian craters could give Russia the lead in the race to dominate the market over the next century.

The development comes amid speculation that Lake Baikal, the largest and oldest freshwater lake in the world, could also be sitting on a time bomb ready to explode. The scenic stretch of water, which snakes for 400 miles through south-east Siberia, has massive reserves of the volatile 'fire ice' buried under ground.

Experts are working on a theory that elevated levels of this crystallised gas caused explosions at the craters in the same way as eruptions below the Atlantic may be behind the Bermuda Triangle phenomenon.

It is thought permafrost at the sites could have one million times more methane hydrates locked inside than ordinary gas.

Exclusive new pictures INSIDE mystery Siberian crater


Exclusive new pictures INSIDE mystery Siberian crater


Exclusive new pictures INSIDE mystery Siberian crater


Exclusive new pictures INSIDE mystery Siberian crater


Exclusive new pictures INSIDE mystery Siberian crater

The research to the largest of three known holes was initiated by the Russian Centre of Arctic Exploration. Pictures: Vladimir Pushkarev/Russian Centre of Arctic Exploration

Three scientists from the Trofimuk Petroleum-Gas Geology and Geophysics Institute – part of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Novosibirsk – were part of a Gazprom team that spent days examining the Yamal crater 40 metres wide and 50 metres deep.

Igor Yeltsov, deputy head of the institute, told the Siberian Times: 'Methane hydrate can potentially be an alternative source of energy when we run out of traditional shale gas.'

A number of craters have appeared across Siberia over the past few years, with the first spotted in 2013 by helicopter pilots 20 miles from a gas extraction plant at Bovanenkovo.

The second was in the same permafrost region of northern Russia, and the third on the Taymyr Peninsula, to the east, in the Kransoyark region. Their emergence has baffled scientists, who have carried out extensive tests including taking ice probes, sampling gas levels and examining the crater walls.

New video footage from the latest expedition inside the frozen funnels has emerged, showing researchers chipping away at the blackened ice. During examinations of the site, thawed out permafrost was found 200 metres from the top of the crater.

Elevated levels of methane and methane hydrate deposits at a depth of between 50 and 70 metres suggested this eruption was caused by gas.

Scientists also discovered two tectonic fault lines across the Yamal Peninsula, with the likelihood being that the blow-out was caused by a deadly combination of heat leaving these rifts, a higher than normal air temperature, and the ‘fire ice’ melting.

'I like comparing it to Champagne,' explained Mr Yeltsov, who said that predicting gas hydrate emissions is more complex than forecasting even earthquakes. Understanding how they erupt will help plan future infrastructure in the Yamal region.

However, he did say similar amounts of hydrate deposits are located under Lake Baikal, the deepest and oldest freshwater lake in the world.

The first expedition looking at possible gas extraction took place in September, with the Trofimuk scientists spending four days in tents as they carried out tests.

Gazprom, the largest extractor of natural gas in the world, is in talks with the research team about undertaking a second trip either later this year or early in 2015.

Exclusive new pictures INSIDE mystery Siberian crater


Exclusive new pictures INSIDE mystery Siberian crater


Exclusive new pictures INSIDE mystery Siberian crater


Exclusive new pictures INSIDE mystery Siberian crater


Exclusive new pictures INSIDE mystery Siberian crater


Exclusive new pictures INSIDE mystery Siberian crater


Exclusive new pictures INSIDE mystery Siberian crater


Exclusive new pictures INSIDE mystery Siberian crater


Exclusive new pictures INSIDE mystery Siberian crater


Exclusive new pictures INSIDE mystery Siberian crater

'When you’re standing on the edge of the hole, you get such an incredible feeling. It's nature's natural power that ejected such a massive amount of ice.' Pictures: Vladimir Pushkarev/Russian Centre of Arctic Exploration

As reserves of coal, oil and gas diminish, or become harder to access, there is a global race on to harness energy from methane hydrates. They primarily exist in permafrost regions, although they can be found under the oceans in some parts of the world. A highly energy-intensive source, one cubic metre of the compound releases about 160 cubic metres of gas.

Crucially, there is more energy in methane hydrates than in all the world’s oil, coal and gas put together. Meanwhile, experts from the Hydrodynamics Institute, at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Novosibirsk, are trying to solve the riddle of the unusual shape of the Yamal crater.

Formed in a near-perfect cylinder, it is slightly wider at the surface and has smooth walls, with a frozen lake at the bottom. About a third of the crater is filled with water because of its melting walls and rain, and it is thought that within three years it will be almost full.

By 2024 it will be difficult to see the crater at all as it will be completely submerged by a lake.

'Photos and videos cannot fully convey the majesty of the crater,' said Vladimir Olenchenko, the leader of the latest expedition. 'When you’re standing on the edge of the hole, you get such an incredible feeling. It's nature's natural power that ejected such a massive amount of ice.' 

When the Yamal hole first appeared, many odd theories were put forward to explain the phenomenon, including that it was a stray missile, a meteorite or even the work of aliens.

First pictures from inside the 'crater at the end of the world' 


First pictures from inside the 'crater at the end of the world' 


First pictures from inside the 'crater at the end of the world' 


First pictures from inside the 'crater at the end of the world' 

Experts examine the newly-discovered hole in the earth in Siberia. Pictures: Marya Zulinova, press service of the Governor YaNAO

However, the research team from the Trofimuk Petroleum-Gas Geology and Geophysics Institute say there is evidence all the craters could be linked to the Bermuda Triangle.

Explosions under the Atlantic Ocean caused by high gas hydrate emissions are thought to explain part of the mystery of ships and aircraft disappearing. Ironically the name Yamal means 'the end of the world', the same description applied to the Bermuda Triangle, off the Florida coastline.

Comments (4)

Alazakaam-information found, problem solved, thanks!
Alazakaam-information found, problem solved, thanks!, Alazakaam-information found, problem solved, thanks!
29/09/2016 03:05
0
0
They're called "Cenotes" not "zelotes"
Polly, Puebla
26/03/2015 13:24
0
0
beautiful photos
Mark, Bishops Lydeard, UK
22/11/2014 15:15
2
0
They look like the Mexican "zelotes" in Yucatan peninsula.
Enrique, Spain
21/11/2014 10:03
2
0
1

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