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'Baikal tributaries drain an area the size of Britain and France combined'

Dozens of new craters suspected in northern Russia

By 0 and 0 and 0
23 February 2015


B1 - famous Yamal hole in 30 kilometres from Bovanenkovo, spotted in 2014 by helicopter pilots. Pictures: Marya Zulinova, Yamal regional government's press service

Respected Moscow scientist Professor Vasily Bogoyavlensky has called for 'urgent' investigation of the new phenomenon amid safety fears.

Until now, only three large craters were known about in northern Russia with several scientific sources speculating last year that heating from above the surface due to unusually warm climatic conditions, and from below, due to geological fault lines, led to a huge release of gas hydrates, so causing the formation of these craters in Arctic regions. 

Two of the newly-discovered large craters - also known as funnels to scientists - have turned into lakes, revealed Professor Bogoyavlensky, deputy director of the Moscow-based Oil and Gas Research Institute, part of the Russian Academy of Sciences. 

Examination using satellite images has helped Russian experts understand that the craters are more widespread than was first realised, with one large hole surrounded by as many as 20 mini-craters, The Siberian Times can reveal.

Map of Arctic craters

Four arctic craters: B1 - famous Yamal hole in 30 kilometres from Bovanenkovo, B2 - recently detected crater in 10 kilometres to the south from Bovanenkovo, B3 - crater located in 90 kilometres from Antipayuta village, B4 - crater located near Nosok village, on the north of Krasnoyarsk region, near Taimyr Peninsula. Picture: Vasily Bogoyavlensky

'We know now of seven craters in the Arctic area,' he said. '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. 

'We have exact locations for only four of them. The other three were spotted by reindeer herders. But I am sure that there are more craters on Yamal, we just need to search for them. 

'I would compare this with mushrooms: when you find one mushroom, be sure there are few more around. I suppose there could be 20 to 30 craters more.'

He is anxious to investigate the craters further because of serious concerns for safety in these regions.

The study of satellite images showed that near the famous hole, located in 30 kilometres from Bovanenkovo are two potentially dangerous objects, where the gas emission can occur at any moment.

Yamal hole

Satellite image of the site before the forming of the Yamal hole (B1). K1 and the red outline show the hillock (pingo) formed before the gas emission. Yellow outlines show the potentially dangerous objects. Picture: Vasily Bogoyavlensky

He warned: 'These objects need to be studied, but it is rather dangerous for the researchers. We know that there can occur a series of gas emissions over an extended period of time, but we do not know exactly when they might happen.

'For example, you all remember the magnificent shots of the Yamal crater in winter, made during the latest expedition in Novomber 2014. But do you know that Vladimir Pushkarev, director of the Russian Centre of Arctic Exploration, was the first man in the world who went down the crater of gas emission? 

'More than this, it was very risky, because no one could guarantee there would not be new emissions.'

Professor Bogoyavlensky told The Siberian Times: 'One of the most interesting objects here is the crater that we mark as B2, located 10 kilometres to the south of Bovanenkovo. On the satellite image you can see that it is one big lake surrounded by more than 20 small craters filled with water. 

'Studying the satellite images we found out that initially there were no craters nor a lake. Some craters appeared, then more. Then, I suppose that the craters filled with water and turned to several lakes, then merged into one large lake, 50 by 100 metres in diameter. 

'This big lake is surrounded by the network of  more than 20 'baby' craters now filled with water and I suppose that new ones could appear last summer or even now. We now counting them and making a catalogue. Some of them are very small, no more than 2 metres in diameter.'

Lake and small craters around

Satellite images showing pingo before the gas emission on the object B2 (top). Lake formed here at the place of the number of craters and the network of more than 20 'baby' craters around (bottom). Picture: Vasily Bogoyavlensky

'We have not been at the spot yet,' he said. 'Probably some local reindeer herders were there, but so far no scientists.'

He explained: 'After studying this object I am pretty sure that there was a series of gas emissions over an extended period of time. Sadly, we do not know, when exactly these emissions occur, i.e. mostly in summer, or in winter too. We see only the results of this emissions.'

The object B2 is now attracting special attention from the researchers as they seek to understand and explain the phenomenon. This is only 10km from Bovanenkovo, a major gas field, developed by Gazprom, in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug. Yet older satellite images do not show the existence of a lake, nor any craters, in this location. 

Not only the new craters constantly forming on Yamal show that the process of gas emission is ongoing actively.

Professor Bogoyavlensky shows the picture of one of the Yamal lakes, taken by him from the helicopter and points on the whitish haze on its surface. 

Lake with degassation

Yamal lake with traces of gas emissions. Picture: Vasily Bogoyavlensky

He commented: 'This haze that you see on the surface shows that gas seeps that go from the bottom of the lake to the surface. We call this process 'degassing'. 

'We do not know, if there was a crater previously and then turned to lake, or the lake formed during some other process. More important is that the gases from within are actively seeping through this lake.

'Degassing was revealed on the territory of Yamal Autonomous District about 45 years ago, but now we think that it can give us some clues about the formation of the craters and gas emissions. Anyway, we must research this phenomenon urgently, to prevent possible disasters.'

Professor Bogoyavlensky stressed: 'For now, we can speak only about the results of our work in the laboratory, using the images from space. 

'No one knows what is happening in these craters at the moment. We plan a new expedition. Also we want to put not less than four seismic stations in Yamal district, so they can fix small earthquakes, that occur when the crater appears. 

'In two cases locals told us that they felt earth tremors. The nearest seismic station was yet too far to register these tremors.

View of the crater in Antipayuta

Big hole on Taymyr near Nosok

Crater B3 located in 90 kilometres from Antipayuta village, Yamal district (top). Crater B4 located near Nosok village, on the north of Krasnoyarsk region, near Taimyr Peninsula. Pictures: Local residents

'I think that at the moment we know enough about the crater B1. There were several expeditions, we took probes and made measurements. I believe that we need to visit the other craters, namely B2, B3 and B4, and then visit the rest three craters, when we will know their exact location. It will give us more information and will bring us closer to understanding the phenomenon.'

He urged: 'It is important not to scare people, but to understand that it is a very serious problem and we must research this.'

In an article for Drilling and Oil magazine, Professor Bogoyavlensky said the parapet of these craters suggests an underground explosion.

'The absence of charred rock and traces of  significant erosion due to possible water leaks speaks in favour of mighty eruption (pneumatic exhaust) of gas from a shallow underground reservoir, which left no traces on soil which contained a high percentage of ice,' he wrote. 

'In other words, it was a gas-explosive mechanism that worked there. A concentration of 5-to-16% of methane is explosive. The most explosive concentration is 9.5%.'

Yamal crater in summer

Yamal crater in summer

'The parapet of these craters suggests an underground explosion.' Pictures of Yamal crater taken by Vasily Bogoyavlensky

Gas probably concentrated underground in a cavity 'which formed due to the gradual melting of buried ice'. Then 'gas was replacing ice and water'.

'Years of experience has shown that gas emissions can cause serious damage to drilling rigs, oil and gas fields and offshore pipelines,' he said. 'Yamal craters are inherently similar to pockmarks. 

'We cannot rule out new gas emissions in the Arctic and in some cases they can ignite.'

This was possible in the case of the crater found at Antipayuta, on the Yamal peninsula. 

'The Antipayuta residents told how they saw some flash. Probably the gas ignited when appeared the crater B4, near Taimyr peninsula. This shows us, that such explosion could be rather dangerous and destructive. 

'We need to answer now the basic questions: what areas and under what conditions are the most dangerous? These questions are important for safe operation of the northern cities and infrastructure of oil and gas complexes.'

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

The latest expedition to Yamal crater was initiated by the Russian Centre of Arctic Exploration in early November 2014. The researchers were first in the world who went down the crater of gas emission. Pictures: Vladimir Pushkarev/Russian Centre of Arctic Exploration 

Pingos are mounds with an ice core found in Arctic and sub-Arctic regions.

They can reach up to 70 metres (230 ft) in height and up to 600 m (2,000 ft) in diameter. They usually appear when groundwaters penetrate between permafrost and the top layer, which melts in summer season. They usually form in drained lakes or river channels. 

However, gas is not a factor in their creation. 

See previous stories on the craters:

Large crater appears at the 'end of the world'

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

Now two NEW large holes appear in Siberia

Foreign scientists welcome to join research into Siberia's mysterious giant holes 

Siberian exploding holes 'are the key to Bermuda Triangle'

Exclusive new pictures INSIDE Siberian crater

Now Siberian craters could provide energy of future

How global warming could turn Siberia into a giant crater 'time bomb'

Comments (75)

Interesting . I will ask my dad , he is a permafrost geologist specualizing on Yamal . Getting back to you.
Kirill , Moscow, Russia
27/02/2015 20:15
Could it be................the Gates of HELL are opening...................
Melek, USA
27/02/2015 19:09
Hi Clara 'As you pointed out, temperatures were once quite high before. The problem today is the astounding rate of change' With that in mind, what do you make of the ongoing 18 hiatus in surface warming?
Steve, Australia
27/02/2015 12:34
Hi Clara 'As you pointed out, temperatures were once quite high before. The problem today is the astounding rate of change' With that in mind, what do you make of the ongoing 18 hiatus in surface warming?
Steve, Australia
27/02/2015 10:12
I have always been curious about what takes the oils place when it is extracted from the earth? Does anyone know? I cant help but think that much of what we consider to be the effects of surface pollution ie Global warming is actually created by removing the oil from the earths interior which would certainly contribute to the warming of the oceans as well as the drying of the earths surface.
helen connell, Forster Australia
27/02/2015 06:40
The flaw with melting permafrost theory is that the gas probably would not have reached sufficient pressure or depth to produce these holes. Effects would be much shallower. Melt due to global warming would proceed from the surface downward with materials on top reacting long before deeper materials. I suppose clathrates might only exist at the depths of of the craters due to sublimation etc over thousands of years. So in that case reactions of global warming might not be seen until it reached great depths. But then you are proposing that global warming effects have penetrated to depths of scores to hundreds of feet in order to set off explosive conversion of such clathrates. Now based on subsurface temperatures in the Sahara and Arctic areas being much the same at depths of several score meters of uninterrupted dirt/rock coverage...I'd say things probably didn't warm at those depths in Siberia due to mild global warming. Again unregulated test holes drilled during 1980s-1990s Russian oil and gas exploration boom are a totally different story. If you want to warm deeply buried clathrates under frozen dirt to critical chain reaction temperatures - start by drilling holes that allow access to surface temperatures and moistures.
Observation, USA
27/02/2015 05:16
maybe its a case of all those test holes that got drilled in the wildcat days of gas exploration in the late 80s and 90s coming back to haunt Siberia. With no records of location kept on non-profitable holes nor standards enforced for drilling practices.... Well modern western drillers eventually learned that test holes and abandon production holes need to be properly capped for the geological circumstances. For gas that means reinforced plugs must be placed far below surface at the level of the strata that originally sealed high pressure gas. Not an expense I see 80s and 90s Russian capitalists taking. Otherwise wells capped near the surface let high pressure gas escape up past the puncture in the sealing strata and then cause that high pressure to collect at subsurface levels that are far less able to contain the gas. Gas flow might even increase substantially (poor flow to roaring flow) as gas movement alters subsurface micro-geology. In the Siberian case the gas probably forced its way out under the frozen permafrost and created a cavity until it was able to lift (blow) a plug free by explosive pressure failure. Mechanical stress may have caused melting of permafrost around the flexed bulge of high pressure gas. Fiery explosions when they occur are almost certainly after gas mixes with air and maybe set off by static electric discharge of rapidly moving gases or isolated (even forgotten) human sources.
Observation, USA
27/02/2015 04:59
Very interesting article! Great comments and I've seen smaller formations in a river. Assuming air bubbles coming up through lava in the cold water... On Vancouver Island Sooke Pot Holes. I enjoyed this very much thank you
Ashley, canada
27/02/2015 04:14
After permafrost melts in part of Siberia, there will be thousans of acres for farming, and plenty of fresh water. Probably, in Southern Siberia there are already thousands of new acres which now can be exploited for farming thanks to global warming and the melting permafrost...and that is why the Russian Government is giving 1 hectare to Russians which want to settle in the Far East.
Enrique, Spain
27/02/2015 04:01
@Clara: Very thoughtful remarks. I have not seen the charts you mention but wonder if you superimposed the human population growth charts I *have* seen, onto those chart you have...if the curves would at all mirror one another and if there would be any statistical significance to their relationship. I lived in Appalachia and those people see first hand what happens to the environment when you have owners to don't live in the area taking what they 'need'. It reminds me of a discussion I had long ago when a coal miner family and we jokingly concluded that if we continued to export our culture to other parts of the world through books and movies, then we are going to need another planet! I don't think anyone is laughing now.
Judy, USA CNY area
26/02/2015 22:47
3/3: It's certainly very confusing to me why environmental issues are "issues" at all, or why they're so often seen as on a liberal-conservative dichotomy... Here in Appalachia, where there's a terrible history of resource exploitation, I've met plenty of traditionally conservative and religious folks who are fed up and will clearly assert: environmental issues are not liberal issues, they're human issues. And I guess that determination to keep standing up for our community, and help one another out, is what helps me work through my own fear and sadness... A little much on the backstory though huh? I started off really just curious: have you seen the temperature rate change charts before?
Clara, U.S.
26/02/2015 22:21
A little tight on word count here huh? Sorry, if you have the patience (and they approve my comment!), here is 2/3: An easy way to (metaphorically) visualize this problem is to think of a glass of ice water... Now, if you pour that ice water out, and dump in some piping hot water to make tea or what-have-you, that glass is going to shatter right in your hands. If the change in temperature occurred more slowly, the glass would likely be fine. Our environment is the same-- sudden changes can have dangerous repercussions and, with the daily onslaught of depressing news I read about our planet's water shortage crisis, unprecedented levels of species extinction and resource depletion, increasing problems associated with vector-borne and heat-related diseases, and the rising extremes of natural disasters, I alternate between feeling fearful and deeply saddened to think that we may have reached our own breaking point.
Clara, U.S.
26/02/2015 22:20
Hi Vince, I work as an environmental journalist and I'd like to address your confusion about climate change. I certainly agree with you that the planet was once warmer than it is today. In fact, I've never seen any legitimate research denying this. So I am curious (though you very well may never return to see my comment, nor I yours) ... have you really never seen any of the charts depicting the *rate* of temperature change over the past century? Since I work in the field, I see these charts regularly but, given the continued public skepticism (especially in comment threads! hahah) I can only imagine that folks who do not work in my field do not regularly see these charts. The problem with climate change is not so much that average global temperatures are rising. As you pointed out, temperatures were once quite high before. The problem today is the astounding rate of change.
Clara, U.S.
26/02/2015 22:19
The paper from scientific journal explaining the crater written by scientists who discovered it (p 68):
Dima Streletskiy, Washington, DC
26/02/2015 21:59
What you global warming people gloss over is the fact that this methane is the product of rotting plant matter. the fact that there is so much methane in the soil of the arctic tundra in the first place would imply that once the earth was way hotter than it is now. And last I checked dino's didn't drive cars or use cans of hair spray. If the earth is warming, and I do say if, it is part of a natural cycle, so buy some sun block and enjoy the balmy weather. Compare the numbers and variety of plant life in the tropics with that of Alaska and then tell me where you would rather live, a warmer climate will be a boon to food production and global hunger. Enjoy it!
Vince, Central valley USA.
26/02/2015 18:19

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