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Siberia’s Mysterious Crater

October 9, 2017
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By Paul Homewood

 

Someone sent me this BBC article from a few months ago:

image

Near the Yana river basin, in a vast area of permafrost, there is a dramatic tadpole-shaped hole in the ground: the Batagaika crater.

The crater is also known as a “megaslump” and it is the largest of its kind: almost 0.6 miles (1km) long and 282ft (86m) deep. But these figures will soon change, because it is growing quickly.

 

Locals in the area avoid it, saying it is a “doorway to the underworld”. But for scientists, the site is of great interest.

Looking at the layers exposed by the slump can give indications of how our world once looked – of past climates. At the same time, the acceleration of the growth gives an immediate insight into the impact of climate change on the increasingly fragile permafrost.

There are two types of permafrost. One is from glacier ice, left over from the last Ice Age and now buried underground. The other type, the one present around the Batagaika crater, is ice that has formed in the ground itself. Often, this ice is trapped beneath a layer of sediment and has been frozen for at least two years.

The Batagaika crater opens up a vast area of previously buried permafrost, some of which first formed many thousands of years ago.

The trigger that led to the crater started in the 1960s. Rapid deforestation meant that the ground was no longer shaded by trees in the warmer summer months. This incoming sunlight then slowly warmed the ground. This was made worse by the loss of cold “sweat” from trees as they transpire, which would have kept the ground cool.

“This combination of less shading and less vapid transpiration led to warming of the ground surface,” says Julian Murton of the University of Sussex in the UK.

As the ground surface warmed up, it caused the layer of soil right above the permafrost to warm. This caused the permafrost itself to thaw. Once this process started and the ice was exposed to warmer temperatures, melting escalated.

http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20170223-in-siberia-there-is-a-huge-crater-and-it-is-getting-bigger

So far, so good.

But, of course, someone has to mention global warming!

Frank Günther of the Alfred Wegener Institute in Potsdam, Germany, and colleagues have been monitoring the site for the last decade, using satellite images to measure the rate of change.

 

During their study, the head wall of the crater has grown by an average of 33ft (10m) per year. In warmer years, the changes have been even greater, sometimes up to 98ft (30m) per year. Günther announced these findings at the American Geophysical Union meeting in December 2016.

He also has reason to believe that the side wall of the growing crater will reach a neighbouring eroding valley in the coming summer months. This in turn will “very likely” be a new trigger for more growth.

“On average over many years, we have seen that there’s not so much acceleration or deceleration of these rates, it’s continuously growing,” says Günther. “And continuous growth means that the crater gets deeper and deeper every year.”

This has other worrying consequences.

 

 

Many of the ice deposits that are now being exposed formed during the last Ice Age. This ground ice contains a lot of organic matter, including plenty of carbon that has been locked away for thousands of years.

“Global estimations of carbon stored in permafrost is [the] same amount as what’s in the atmosphere,” says Günther.

 

As more permafrost thaws, more and more carbon is exposed to microbes. The microbes consume the carbon, producing methane and carbon dioxide as waste products. These greenhouse gases are then released into the atmosphere, accelerating warming further.

“This is what we call positive feedback,” says Günther. “Warming accelerates warming, and these features may develop in other places. It’s not only a threat to infrastructure. Nobody can stop this development. There’s no engineering solution to stop these craters developing.”

There is no indication that the erosion of this crater will slow down any time soon, as it continues to grow year on year.

That makes the future of Siberia’s permafrost look very wobbly indeed.

But there is absolutely no evidence that the crater has anything to do with local temperatures, never mind global ones.

The 1960s, when the hole first appeared were relatively cold years in the local area. Although there were a couple of warm years in 1997 and 2008, most years recently are only slightly less cold than the 1930s and 40s.

station

https://data.giss.nasa.gov/cgi-bin/gistemp/show_station.cgi?id=222242660000&dt=1&ds=14

 

Much more important though are the summer temperatures, which are much higher than one would maybe intuitively expect. Again, there is no evidence of any untoward warming.

 

image

https://data.giss.nasa.gov/tmp/gistemp/STATIONS/tmp_222242660000_14_0/station.txt

 

The BBC report actually gives the clue to what actually happened – deforestation. As the scientists themselves say, cutting down trees allowed the sun to do its work.

Furthermore, it also increased the effects of erosion.

 

There is, however, one aspect of the scientific work going on which the BBC forgot to mention, but which the Siberian Times reported on:

The director of the Research Institute of Applied Ecology of the North, Gregory Savvinov, said: ‘In the 1960s there was a road between the village of Batagai and some industrial facilities. The forest was cut down, and this led to the formation of the ravine. In recent years, against the backdrop of climatic changes, due to the warming, the ravine grew to the size of crater.’

In 2009 the carcass of  an Holocene era foal – some 4,400 years old – was discovered,  and a mummified carcass of a bison calf. Remains of ancient bison, horses, elks, mammoths, and reindeer were also found here.

http://siberiantimes.com/science/casestudy/news/n0678-200000-year-old-soil-found-at-mysterious-crater-a-gate-to-the-subterranean-world/

 

So we learn that the region was at least as warm as now 4400 years ago, and probably much warmer for horses to survive then. Yet we did not get runaway warming caused by the release of methane, which is now predicted.

There are many other such holes scattered around Siberia and northern Canada, albeit much smaller. But we have only recently possessed satellites and aircraft to film these, so we cannot say there is anything remotely unusual about them.

But it appears highly likely that deforestation is the key behind many of them.

 

 

UPDATE

Please note that I originally stated that:

“it appears highly unlikely that deforestation is the key behind many of them”

 

This was a typo, which should have read

“it appears highly likely that deforestation is the key behind many of them.”

 

Now corrected.

 

 

 

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36 Comments
  1. Graeme No.3 permalink
    October 9, 2017 6:57 pm

    Perhaps the cause is hot air from the Alfred Wegener Institute in Potsdam?

    Or changes in pingos?

    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/02/150227-siberia-mystery-holes-craters-pingos-methane-hydrates-science/

    Bogoyavlensky, who is deputy director of Russia’s Oil and Gas Research Institute, told Russian media this week that at least seven craters have now been detected by satellites, including one large hole that is surrounded by as many as 20 smaller craters. Two of the previously discovered craters have developed into lakes.

    But Ruppel says methane hydrates are found only in permafrost on land at about 740 feet (225 meters) or deeper, which is much deeper than any of the observed craters (which are around 50 feet, or 15 meters, deep).

  2. Joe Public permalink
    October 9, 2017 7:00 pm

    A large hole in Russia getting a little warmer is nothing new ……

    https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/giant-hole-ground-has-been-fire-more-40-years-180951247/

  3. October 9, 2017 7:23 pm

    “But it appears highly unlikely deforestation is the key behind many of them.”

    Paul – did you mean to say, ‘highly likely?’

    • October 9, 2017 8:09 pm

      +1 wake up Paul

    • October 9, 2017 8:56 pm

      Paul, it is essential to have an answer to this. Please clarify your thinking here, as it is demonstratively ambiguous. Thank you.

      • October 9, 2017 9:31 pm

        Sorry, it was a typo.

        It should say “Highly Likely”, and is now amended

    • October 9, 2017 9:29 pm

      Yes good spot!

      It should read HIGHLY LIKELY

      I’ve now amended

      Thanks

  4. Broadlands permalink
    October 9, 2017 7:38 pm

    Another “scary” report, “du jour”. Ok… but what are we supposed to do to stop it? Ride bicycles to continue studying it and hope it goes away?

  5. Alaskan Sea permalink
    October 9, 2017 8:19 pm

    The message is clear.
    We need to stop cutting down trees and burn more coal.

    • October 9, 2017 8:22 pm

    • October 10, 2017 5:38 am

      In previous series, Simon Reeve only mentioned climate change right at the end of the programmes. In this latest programme he mentioned it near the beginning (after about 10 mins) and then kept repeating it throughout the programme. Now we know the reason why – WWF lies.

      • Sara Hall permalink
        October 10, 2017 11:38 am

        Having recently visited Russia (St Petersburg) for the first time, I was really keen to watch this series, but after climate change was mentioned within the first 10 minutes in the first programme, I switched off and now can’t bear to watch any more.

      • October 10, 2017 10:17 pm

        Sara ..the second episode was free of Climate alarmism

  6. Adam_0625 permalink
    October 9, 2017 11:10 pm

    From what I have read, methane is a potent GHG. But, in order to contribute to warming, there has to be a non-trivial amount of IR energy being re-radiating from Earth to delay returning to space. And, because the Sun is providing a fairly steady amount of incoming radiation, the reflected must also be fairly static, meaning there is an upper limit to methane’s warming regardless of how much is in the atmosphere. So, the real questions are:

    1) how much warming could methane possibly induce if the IR frequencies it absorbs are few and narrow? And,

    2) how saturated are those frequencies already?

    If the answers are 1) not much and 2) close to saturated, then this is indeed much ado about nothing (except posturing for CO2 taxation and more grant money).

    • October 10, 2017 8:57 am

      Or is the real question this: *is there such a thing as a ‘potent’ GHG at all*? Apart from water vapour, the atmospheric concentrations of other supposed greenhouse gases are very small e.g. 0.04% for carbon dioxide, methane hardly any.

      • October 10, 2017 2:59 pm

        I’m pleased someone mentioned the unmentionable. There is no such thing as a GHG. Whilst it may be technically correct that some gases may be able to absorb and then re-emit IR radiation, I have never seen any valid demonstration that this is what keeps the earth warm.

    • October 10, 2017 1:05 pm

      Oldbrew,

      Well argued and your conclusion is correct, namely the huge amounts of money swirling around the renewable energy industry and its associated politics. The AGW cause is a political one.

  7. October 10, 2017 1:33 am

    The climate change connection to siberian craters goes both ways – caused by climate change and also will further accelerate climate change. Those climate change boys are on the ball.

  8. John F. Hultquist permalink
    October 10, 2017 1:52 am

    Perhaps this is more of a problem than the land surface disruption of the installation of 100,000 wind towers, or the cutting of the lowland forests of the USA’s southeast, but I fail to see how.

  9. KTM permalink
    October 10, 2017 4:12 am

    How is a “megaslump” any different than a “thermokarst”?

    http://www.lakescientist.com/alaskas-teshekpuk-lake-worlds-largest-thermokarst-lake/

    28 miles long by 20 miles wide seems slightly larger than a 1km crater.

  10. RAH permalink
    October 10, 2017 5:07 am

    What? And the surrounding area isn’t on fire yet from the release of methane?

  11. Paddy permalink
    October 10, 2017 6:19 am

    Is there any evidence of any such craters formed during previous warm periods?

  12. Bitter&twisted permalink
    October 10, 2017 7:09 am

    Good old Biased Bullsh1t Cartel.
    We can rely on them to report the “facts” as they want them.

  13. smoke&mirrors permalink
    October 10, 2017 7:23 am

    Well, maybe this has nothing to to do with deforestation or climate change – both of which are theories du jour. As Paul says, this feature was first seen in the 1960s which is when there was a view that we were all heading for global cooling.
    In some accounts it is said that the crater was first noticed after the trees were cut down. It may have been there developing for decades, if not centuries before. Nobody knew, because nobody went there.The logging villains were blamed because that’s who you blamed for everything back then.
    You need to look at mechanism. The land has fallen into a hole. It hasn’t somehow shrunk and got lower.
    So, what’s caused the lack of support beneath? The explanation could be really boring and be nothing more than the final shift of ground water way below the surface – something that has been going on since the end of the last Ice Age. It’s all come to a head in our lifetime and at a time when camera crews roam the planet for oddities.
    If you really, really want to blame the evil human race then look to see if there are any large industrial cities around – maybe within hundreds of miles – and look for them gobbling up ground water.
    It’s a very large feature, but just enjoy it – nothing sinister going on here.

  14. Athelstan permalink
    October 10, 2017 7:39 am

    I see it thus, the deforestation is the key to understanding the above feature.

    Conifer’s lateral root spread is a determining factor to holding the topsoil in situ. It is rather difficult to tell without photogrammetry, but looking at the area in question I think one can surmise it is an upland area and with a water course running dead centre through the site.

    Take away the trees and the whole area has been denuded of the key vegetation holding this micro ecosystem together. The wood will have been dragged away, cutting into the forest earth, this leaves large runnels ready to be filled with water, gravity and erosion is the only result. As the upper deposits are gradually removed water washes down stripping away the sub strata more quickly and the denuded area just enlarges, it is just nature’s way and only by a determined land management, replenishing topsoil, re-grassing and tree replanting of the area will prevent the ‘crater’ rapidly increasing in size.

    In Siberia permafrost of course is a factor, how could it not be but it is not the major determinant in this case study – I deem.

  15. Simon Aston permalink
    October 10, 2017 8:05 am

    Was this the very same crater covered by, the otherwise excellent, Russia with Simon Reeve series? Reeve predictably blamed it on global warming.

  16. October 10, 2017 8:52 am

    Simon,
    Yep. The very one.
    I did exactly what Paul did – went to look at the hole on Google. There appears to be an older one, now grown over, not far from it to the N.W. which hints at localised geological factors too.
    You only have to LOOK at the more recent one to see that its nascence results from local not global factors. I was interested to see that in that region of Siberia, summer time temperature have always got up round about 30 – 35 degrees.
    In any case, if global warming were the reason, then how come this is the only one?
    The first thing to go, when civilisations go into decline appears to be trust. It is regrettably isn’t it, that one of the few agencies we thought we could trust (Auntie) we now find we can’t.

  17. CradleyJohn permalink
    October 10, 2017 12:37 pm

    When will scientists and the world wake up to and start studying the effects that land use change, both in agriculture and urbanisation, has on climate. The science was well presented in 2007 in the report “Water for the Recovery of the Climate – A New Water Paradigm” which can be read at:- http://www.waterparadigm.org/download/Water_for_the_Recovery_of_the_Climate_A_New_Water_Paradigm.pdf

    The reduction of the natural cooling processes of evaporation and evapotranspiration have an immediate effect on temperature as well increasing flood risk from surface water run off. Search for either of those words in the reports by the IPCC and you will see how little work has gone on to understand the process. Water vapour is the most widespread greenhouse gas in the atmosphere fluctuating between 1-4% (CO2 by comparison is less than 0.4%). Its potency as a greenhouse gas is also much greater than that of CO2.. So why is no one studying the effects from change in evaporation rates caused by changes in land use?

  18. October 10, 2017 5:55 pm

    Could it be a pingo – a common geological phenomenon in tundra. See my article from 2014:
    https://wryheat.wordpress.com/2014/07/24/the-siberian-crater-a-pingo-is-what-done-it/

  19. Singer beneath bridges permalink
    October 11, 2017 7:47 am

    Crater walls are locally near vertical and expose pristine ice. This is pointed out in the Reeves programme. If the crater formed by permafrost melting and is expanding then ice adjacent to the crater walls would be melting and thinning. Obviously they aren’t.

    I believe most permafrost disappears from the base. Surface warming reduces the temperature gradient and therefore reduces the upward flow of geothermal heat. This accumulates and begins to melt the permafrost base. Surface warming on the other hand is not very effective. Summer temperatures (commonly high) extending over many hours each day are usually unable to melt more than 1-2 metres (= the active zone) in an entire summer and this refreezes during the next winter. Earth and rock are pretty good thermal insulators, so summer heat in tundra settings doesn’t penetrate deeply – that’s why stone buildings with thick walls are cooler in hot climates.

  20. Steve Borodin permalink
    October 11, 2017 9:05 pm

    “This is what we call positive feedback,” says Günther.

    This is what we call scientific illiteracy Gunther.

  21. Ronnie permalink
    October 13, 2017 3:18 pm

    Is there the implication that forests grow in permafrost?

    “This combination of less shading and less vapid transpiration led to warming of the ground surface,” says Julian Murton of the University of Sussex in the UK.

    As the ground surface warmed up, it caused the layer of soil right above the permafrost to warm. This caused the permafrost itself to thaw. Once this process started and the ice was exposed to warmer temperatures, melting escalated.”

    • October 13, 2017 9:03 pm

      I think that these sort of trees that are suited to cold climates tend to have very shallow roots. I have seen many pines and conifers in Scotland, which have blown over, and they all seem to have roots that barely go a foot into the soil.

      This presumably has something to do with poor soil, rocky ground etc.

      I am only guessing, but I suspect that trees in Siberia have similar characteristics, and only sink their roots into the top few inches of soil, which is not frozen

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