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More than 400 sealed ‘craters’ are ticking time bombs from a total 7000+ Arctic permafrost mounds

By Anna Liesowska
07 September 2020

Dissecting them like surgical abscesses to release the gas seen as one solution to avoid future eruptions.

The new Yamal peninsula's 'crater' was registered in summer 2020. Picture: Vasily Bogoyavlensky

There are 17 identified funnels of exploded so-called ‘heave mounds’ recorded on the Yamal and Gydan peninsulas since the first ’crater’ known as C1 started the history of observations in summer 2014.

They are believed to be caused by the build up of methane gas in pockets of thawing permafrost under the surface; these swollen pingo-like formations then erupt with gas blowing off thick caps of soil, shooting out chunks of ice and soil as large as 150 cubic metres as happened in 2017 when the Seyakha pingo erupted.

The newest - number 17 on Russian scientists’ list - ‘crater’ appeared earlier this summer in an undisclosed location on the Yamal peninsula. 

It is currently 31 metres (102 ft) deep, although scientists believe that it was about 40 metres (131 ft) deep at the moment of eruption, with the bottom of the crater quickly covered by collapsing soil.

‘It was in our database as one of 7,185 permafrost heave mounds on the Yamal and Gydan peninsula.

'Five to six per cent of them are really dangerous’, said Professor Vasily Bogoyavlensky, who has recently returned from a major scientific expedition to study the recently erupted mound. 

More than 300 sealed ‘craters’ are ticking time bombs from a total 7000-plus Arctic permafrost mounds


More than 300 sealed ‘craters’ are ticking time bombs from a total 7000-plus Arctic permafrost mounds


More than 300 sealed ‘craters’ are ticking time bombs from a total 7000-plus Arctic permafrost mounds


More than 300 sealed ‘craters’ are ticking time bombs from a total 7000-plus Arctic permafrost mounds


More than 300 sealed ‘craters’ are ticking time bombs from a total 7000-plus Arctic permafrost mounds
The new Yamal peninsula's 'crater' was registered in summer 2020. The process of these mounds forming and exploding is now mostly clear to science, with researchers focusing on how to distinguish the dangerous mounds from the non-explosive ones, and, most importantly, on how to prevent future eruptions. Pictures: Andrey Umnikov, Vesti Yamal


The massive database of pingos is getting compiled thanks to satellite monitoring and regular helicopter expeditions. 

Currently several areas in the Arctic - namely the Seyakha area, the North-Tambey area, the South-Tambey field close to the village of Sabetta, and the West-Seyakha gas field - are on the list of ‘the most dangerous sites’ with the highest concentration of the pingo-like mounds.

The process of these mounds forming and exploding is now mostly clear to science, with researchers focusing on how to distinguish the dangerous mounds from the non-explosive ones, and, most importantly, on how to prevent future eruptions.

‘They can be cut open with gas being pumped out. It must be done very carefully, it is sappers’ work, as these phenomena can be called ‘gas mines’, Dr Bogoyavlensky told The Siberian Times. 

More than 300 sealed ‘craters’ are ticking time bombs from a total 7000-plus Arctic permafrost mounds


More than 300 sealed ‘craters’ are ticking time bombs from a total 7000-plus Arctic permafrost mounds


More than 300 sealed ‘craters’ are ticking time bombs from a total 7000-plus Arctic permafrost mounds



Pictures and video of the new Yamal peninsula's 'crater' by Andrey Umnikov


At the Seyakha crater, a local woman became fascinated with the bulging mound and visited it daily, he said. 

‘But on the day of explosion she felt some tremor, she described it las if the earth was breathing.

‘She quickly left the place just in time before it exploded. If she had shown more curiosity, she would have been killed by this explosion and we would have the first victim.’

At least three of the recorded eruptions had witnesses, who reported seeing the ignition. 

These were the Antipayuta crater (C3), the Seyakha crater (C11) and the Yerkuta crater (C12) eruptions. 

‘We believe the ignition was caused by electrostatic discharges, which adds to the danger of the mounds’, Vasily Bogoyavlensky said.  

More than 300 sealed ‘craters’ are ticking time bombs from a total 7000-plus Arctic permafrost mounds


More than 300 sealed ‘craters’ are ticking time bombs from a total 7000-plus Arctic permafrost mounds


More than 300 sealed ‘craters’ are ticking time bombs from a total 7000-plus Arctic permafrost mounds


More than 300 sealed ‘craters’ are ticking time bombs from a total 7000-plus Arctic permafrost mounds


More than 300 sealed ‘craters’ are ticking time bombs from a total 7000-plus Arctic permafrost mounds
The 2014 'crater' on the Yamal peninsula known as C1. Pictures: Vladimir Pushkarev


According to Professor Bogoyavlensky and his team, the exploding mounds described as ‘pingo like features’ differ from classic pingos or bulgunnyakhs. 

Pingos usually form in the depressions of dried up lakes (khasyrei) and have an ice core which expands and makes them grow. 

In the formation of the pingo-like features in northern Siberia, the methane migrates from deeper layers through sub-vertical faults in thawed zones (cryopegs) to fill a cavity formed in permafrost. 

Usually such cavities are covered by a 7 to 9 metre thick seal of permafrost.

The volume of the chamber increases under the growing pressure from the gas and eventually blows up the seal with massive chunks of frozen rock and soil thrown as far as 900 metres from the epicentre. 

Video filmed by Anton Sinitsky in 2017 shows the Seyakha 'crater' with gas emission continuing months after the eruption

More than 300 sealed ‘craters’ are ticking time bombs from a total 7000-plus Arctic permafrost mounds
Yamal LNG plant in Sabetta, north-east of the Yamal Peninsula. Picture: Yamal LNG


Such mounds grow faster than ‘classic’ pingos. 

For example the Seyakha pingo-like feature  (C11) developed in approximately three and a half years, with an average rate of its growth being over 80cm a year. 

This rate is more than three times higher than that of the Riverbed Pingo (Canada), and other pingos in the north of Canada.

In some cases emission of gas continue long after the eruptions, as it was recorded in Bovanenkovo, Antipayuta, Seyakha 'craters' and lake Otkrytie.

The August 2020 Yamal peninsula research expedition was organized by the Institute of Oil and Gas Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences, with support from the Government of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug and the Russian Center for Arctic Development.

Specialists from the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology were involved in the final stage of the expedition.

Comments (13)

Making Siberia carbon neutral, even counting the carbon storage from charcoal from Siberian fires, would be difficult. A new paper published in Nature calculates that roughly 250 million tons of carbon is stored every year as charcoal from fires, compared to roughly 10,000 million tons of carbon emitted each year due to fossil fuel combustion.

Still, Biomass Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) can change the global warming math a lot, because BECCS simultaneously produces electricity that can be used for electrical vehicles, prevents other fossil fuels from being burned to produce that electricity, and puts carbon back underground. Look up BECCS on Wikipedia. So, firebreaks should be cut through Siberian forests and that biomass used for BECCS. Siberian natural gas should be burned in oxygen, and the CO2 from that added to the biomass CO2 and deep injected.
Leland Palmer, Santa Rosa, CA / United States
22/09/2020 15:19
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0
Another possibility: the rest of the world could pay Russia to leave natural gas in the ground.
Or the rest of the world could pay to install the very latest methane leak detection technology. The Russians would likely want to stop methane leaks, because leaks cut down on their revenue.
Small steps could be taken in the direction of carbon neutrality. The rest of the world could finance Russian BECCS pilot plants, for example, using Siberian biomass.
We (the whole world) have to get moving. These methane blowout craters show us that global warming is getting out of control, I think.
Leland Palmer, Santa Rosa, CA / United States
14/09/2020 09:41
1
1
Making Siberia carbon neutral may be possible. Siberian forests take up huge amounts of CO2 every year. Siberian forest fires put some of that carbon back in the air, but also some carbon goes into the soil as charcoal, where it is stored for decades or centuries.



The amount of methane released by these blowouts is trivial, so far. The giant Siberian gas fields are the global warming problem. Use carbon capture and storage while producing electricity for export. Put biomass carbon back underground using Biomass Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS), using biomass from firebreaks cut through the forests.
Leland Palmer, Santa Rosa, CA / United States
14/09/2020 00:59
1
0
It appears to me, that the puny efforts that mankind could rapidly marshal to capture this methane for use and mineralization, could only have a minimal effect on the totality of the Arctic methane's contribution to Abrupt Biosphere Collapse. Trying to export energy from this sparsely populated region would also be problematic.

Observe, study, and learn to predict these phenomenon. What else can we do, there? The ABC to unfold can not be stopped. Nature, alone, is only entity capable of initiating Humanity's "population correction". The next Thermal Maximum is under way. Small prepared pockets of humans which survive, will carry what knowledge they can, into the future.
Philip Stone, New York, USA
13/09/2020 14:39
1
1
It’s like The world’s acne and acne scars. Treatment should be like a healthy skincare routine: “Generally, aim to use a product over at least six weeks, once or twice daily, to notice a difference. Tip: With any skin-care product, apply in order of consistency — from thinnest to thickest.” - NYT
Sarah Marin, USA
13/09/2020 13:09
0
1
Making Siberia carbon neutral would be a huge task. It is possible if biomass from Siberian forests was burned in oxygen as well, and the resulting CO2 disposed of by mineral carbonation, I think. Look up BECCS (Biomass Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage) on Wikipedia for info on this.

But methane leakage from the Siberian gas fields alone likely adds a huge amount to global warming, as does CO2 from combustion. Carbon Credit payments to Russia for BECCS from other countries could possibly help finance the conversion to a more carbon neutral Siberia.
Leland Palmer, Santa Rosa, CA / United States
13/09/2020 11:31
1
0
These methane blowouts will likely happen too slowly to shut down the Siberian natural gas industry, that adds to global warming.

Siberia has another vast resource that is not being used. The Siberian Traps flood basalt deposits may be an ideal place to convert CO2 into limestone by mineral carbonation. If Siberian natural gas was burned in oxygen, a pure stream of CO2 could be produced while generating electricity for export. That CO2 could be injected into basalt formations for permanent disposal. This would allow the huge gas reserves of Siberia to be harvested without adding to global warming.
Leland Palmer, Santa Rosa, CA / United States
13/09/2020 10:42
2
0
Wow- This should be Front Page News across Worldwide Media right along with the US West Coast Fires, Tar Sands in BC Canada, Amazon Forest Fires- the World needs to Wake Up!!
Richard Peet, USA
13/09/2020 04:15
2
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The "relic methane hydrate" hypothesis is now making predictions. It predicted that the Yamal Peninsula was glaciated in the past, and that seems now to be true. It also satisfies all the known facts about these events.

If true, that would have large implications. It would likely mean that these methane blowouts are going to become more common. It might mean that the unusual topography of hundreds of thousands of square km of Siberia is due to methane blowouts forming craters, and these craters progressively enlarging and merging to form lakes.
Leland Palmer, Santa Rosa,CA,United States
12/09/2020 22:49
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0
Arzanhov in his paper 'Modeling thermal regime and evolution of methane hydrate stability zone of the Yamal peninsula permafrost' calculate that relic methane hydrates could have been created under ice sheets of about 65 and 90 thousand years ago. The hydrate stability zone could have reached the surface then, according to their modeling.



These hydrates could now be dissociating due to global warming.
Leland Palmer, Santa Rosa, CA, United States
12/09/2020 14:26
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0
Is possible thunderstorm (electrical) discharges could initiate methane explosions?
R. Kithil, Denver USA
09/09/2020 02:26
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Does not matter. "the elements shall melt with fervent heat ..."
Lucille , U.S.
09/09/2020 01:14
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Bonjour,

Les photos sont très explicites, mais pour comprendre le mécanisme, un petit dessin aurait aidé

Merci









Olga, Marseille FRANCE
07/09/2020 23:36
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1
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