University of Alaska researchers study methane explosion craters in Siberia

UAF researchers are studying massive holes found in the ice and ground of the Siberian arctic.
UAF researchers are studying massive holes found in the ice and ground of the Siberian arctic.(UAF | University of Alaska Fairbanks)
Published: Feb. 28, 2022 at 4:22 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) researchers are studying massive holes found in the ice and ground of the Siberian arctic.

According to Vladimir Romanovsky, a Professor Emeritus with UAF, these craters are a very recent phenomenon.

“The first crater which was observed, happened in 2013,” Romanovsky explained, “and before that there was no mention of anything like this in the scientific literature, and even in non-scientific literature - so it’s really something new which is starting to happen.”

Romanovsky continued, “The most common explanation is that there is... for some reason, the gas is mostly methane, but also other gasses, concentrated with high pressure below the ground surface in permafrost and permafrost regions, and this gas is trying to make its way to the atmosphere. Because the pressure is high, the upper layer of frozen ground starts to deform, forming some sort of hill like round mound. Size? Well, maybe 100 or more feet across, and about maybe 10 feet high, maybe higher actually.”

But while resulting eruptions have yet to be observed, those living in the area have likened them to the sound of an explosion.

Romanovsky elaborated, “After some period of time, when pressure is high, and the strength of the ground above it, getting kind of you know, lower... eventually the cup of this mound just be [sic] thrown away in the eruption, and flying pieces go pretty far, you know, 300 feet, and more in big chunks of ice and ground which shows that pressure was really high and before this eruption.”

While scientists debate on the cause for these build-ups and sudden releases of methane gas, Romanovsky says a common thread is the possible connection to climate change. “Other scientists and I actually belong to the other part of scientists who explained this phenomenon from protrusion from below permafrost - mix of gasses and liquids under high pressure and maybe higher temperature protrusion from below. An origin of these gasses may be even deeper. It could be just conventional gas... many thousands of feet deep. This protrusion going through the permafrost because of high pressure and maybe higher temperature... eventually this protrusion reaches the near surface area and then it starts to deform the surface, develops this mound, and then eventually eruption happens.”

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