Concern from scientists over potential danger to gas production facilities in region vital for energy supplies.
Thawing of ice layers threatens the road near Bovanenkovo. Picture: Vladimir Olenchenko/IPGG
The sudden appearance of giant blowout craters changing the Yamal landscape has been documented in recent years, while on on Belyy Island, off the peninsula's coast, previously rock hard from permafrost has been seen 'bubbling' or 'trembling' with measurements indicating it is leaking methane and carbon dioxide, according to scientists.
Now experts have pointed to quick-forming deep ravines and startling landslides which are altering the shape of this gas-rich Arctic region.
Specialists at company Gazprom Dobycha Nadym have identified no less than 150 geological features on Yamal believed to be linked to thawing ice layers within the permafrost, it is understood.
One of the dangerous objects is located close to the road leading to gas well. Picture: Gazprom, IPGG
A team of scientists from the Trofimuk Institute of Petroleum Geology and Geophysics has developed a method to assess the scale of destruction around these features, and to measure the likely future impact.
Such landmarks are seen as potentially 'dangerous' to people and production facilities.
One such facility is Bovanenkovo gas deposit, which is known to have a major crater within 30 kilometres, and to have a number of these other features in its vicinity.
Others have been found elsewhere on the Yamal peninsula, which holds the largest gas deposits in Russia and is critical to egergy supplies to western Europe, notably Germany, Netherlands, Belgium as well as Poland.. The thawing permafrost poses complex challenges to companies dealing with extraction.
Specialists at company Gazprom Dobycha Nadym have identified no less than 150 geological features on Yamal believed to be linked to thawing ice layers within the permafrost. Pictures: Gazprom, IPGG
Dr Vladimir Olenchenko, head of the institute's research team, has examined four such features: two located close to roads leading to gas wells, one near a pipeline, and another adjacent to a high-voltage power line.
'In simple terms: the sun warms, the permafrost is thawing, and destruction occurs at an alarming rate,' he said. 'This happens because on Yamal there is widespread massive ground ice [ice layers], which are thawing due to global warming.
'Our task was to outline the dangerous places and to establish how widely these processes can develop. When you see a ravine, you cannot imagine the scale of its further development. Yes, there is the ice there, but how far it extends, and the extent the damage is unclear. We are able to understand this quickly with the help of geophysical methods - literally within one day.
The experts are using a modern modification of vertical electric sounding (electron tomography), which they developed specially to examine dangerous processes in permafrost. Picture: Vladimir Olenchenko/IPGG
'The specialists of Gazprom have revealed about 150 dangerous objects. We cannot examine all of them, but we have developed the method and we are passing this technology to Gazprom's specialists so they can do this themselves.'
The experts are using a modern modification of vertical electric sounding (electron tomography), which they developed specially to examine dangerous processes in permafrost.
Such tomography helps them create 3D models of potentially dangerous features and predict how they will develop further, in which direction and at what speed. This method, which the scientists are patenting, is more exact than aerial photography or drilling the test wells.
When the craters first appeared on the Yamal Peninsula - known to locals as 'the end of the world' - they sparked bizarre theories as to their formation.
Vladimir Olenchenko makes the measurments. Picture: Vladimir Olenchenko/IPGG
Scientists now believe they were formed by pingos - dome-shaped mounds over a core of ice - erupting under pressure of methane gas released by the thawing of permafrost caused by climate change.
The Yamal craters, some tiny but others large, were created by natural gas filling vacant space in ice humps, eventually triggering eruptions, according to leading authority Professor Vasily Bogoyavlensky, of Moscow's Oil and Gas Research Institute.
Another crater - now a lake - on the Taimyr Peninsula is not believed to have been formed in a pingo.
Yet local reports suggested a 'big bang' in 2013 when it was created. The noise could be heard 100 kilometres away and one resident witnessed a 'glow in the sky' after the eruption. The crater has grown more than 15 times in size since it formed.
The swaying ground on Belyy Island - shown in a remarkable video - are patches of soft ground which, when punctured, appear to have water beneath the grass cover but also emit significant levels of methane and carbon dioxide.
Bulging bumps in the Yamal and Gydan peninsulas believed to be caused by thawing permafrost releasing methane.
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