A Mysterious Crater Suddenly Opened Up in the Arctic Tundra

Mysterious craters have been popping up in the Arctic tundra in recent years, and the latest example is 50 meters deep.

SCREENGRAB: YOUTUBE/ ВЕСТИ ЯМАЛ

Siberian media reported the discovery of a 50-meter deep crater in the Arctic tundra that suddenly opened up. Craters like these have been found since 2014, and scientists believe they may be a result of cryogenic eruptions—in other words, ice volcanoes. 

According to the Siberian Times, a TV crew from station Vesti Yamal observed the massive crater by chance while traveling from an assignment. The crater is one of several on the Yamal and Taymyr peninsulas in Siberia, and these geological phenomena have been subjects of research for years.

One research group led by Lomosnosov Moscow State University geologist Andrey Bychkov proposed that the first discovered crater in the region was caused by an ice volcano eruption. In 2018, they published a paper in the journal Scientific Reports to explain the origin of what they dubbed the “spectacular crater.”

Bychkov said in an email that cryovolcanism is a known phenomenon on other planets, but prior to their study, ice volcanoes were not believed to exist on Earth. However, he found that a cryogenic eruption would adequately explain how the crater was formed. 

At the time, others theorized that the crater may have been caused by a meteorite impact or deep migration of gas under the Earth’s surface.

In the paper, the authors describe how an ice-cored hill called a pingo would have exploded to produce the crater. First, a talik—an area of unfrozen ground surrounded by permafrost—forms underneath a thaw lake, a process lasting thousands of years. The top of the talik freezes over while methane and carbon dioxide builds up inside its core. The pneumatic pressure pushing up on the frozen top of the talik produces a pingo that eventually bursts.

Bychkov said that all but one of these explosions have happened in remote locations. People recorded smoke and loud sounds in the one instance that a crater formed near human habitation. According to Bychkov, these craters don’t remain gaping holes in the Earth forever; water eventually fills these craters, producing round lakes that are widespread in the Arctic.

“There are thousands of round lakes; they may have been craters,” he said.

The explosions of pingos into craters also seem to be associated with unusually warm summers. The heat, according to Earther, likely weakened the Siberian permafrost, facilitating the explosion of methane from the pingo. Bychkov said we still do not know exactly how these warm temperatures affect cryovolcanism, though.

For Bychkov, it’s not the craters themselves that fascinate him; rather, it’s the ecology and composition of the taliks, ecosystems that have been shut off from the rest of the world for millennia. 

“The most interesting thing is the life in the talik,” Bychkov said. “It is a closed world with evolution separated from oxygen for thousands of years. Special microbes can live at low temperatures and produce gases, which provide cryovolcanism. This world has not been explored.”

Report: Great Lakes Feeling Effects of Rapid Climate Warming

0806E02A-BE2A-4116-BFCF-470A0B14D5B0In this March 12, 2019 satellite photo provided by NOAA, shows the Great Lakes in various degrees of snow and ice. A scientific report says the Great Lakes region is warming faster than the rest of the U.S., which likely will bring more flooding and other extreme weather events such as heat waves and drought. NOAA via AP

 

The Great Lakes region is warming faster than the rest of the United States, a trend likely to bring more extreme storms while also degrading water quality, worsening erosion and posing tougher challenges for farming, scientists reported Thursday.

The annual mean air temperature in the region, which includes portions of the U.S. Midwest, Northeast and southern Canada, rose 1.6 degrees (0.9 Celsius) from 1901-60 and 1985-2016, according to the report commissioned by the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center. During the same periods, the mean temperature for the remainder of the contiguous U.S. rose 1.2 degrees (0.7 Celsius).

Warming is expected to continue this century, with rates depending on the volume of heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide and methane that humans pump into the atmosphere. As the air warms, it will hold more moisture, which likely will mean heavier winter snowstorms and spring rains — with more flooding in vulnerable areas. Yet summers will be hotter and drier.

“Climate change is already affecting the climate of the Great Lakes region and the physical behavior of the Great Lakes themselves,” said Don Weubbles, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Illinois and former assistant director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Obama administration.

The five Great Lakes hold about one-fifth of the world’s surface fresh water and are so large that they influence regional weather. They keep nearby lands cooler in summer and warmer in winter than those farther inland, while their humidity fuels lake-effect snowfall and summer rains. In addition to providing drinking water for millions of people, they are the backbone of an economy built on manufacturing, agriculture and tourism.

A warming climate will add to stresses the lakes have suffered from industrial pollution and development, particularly overflows from urban sewer systems that carry harmful bacteria, said the report produced by 18 scientists, most from Midwestern universities as well as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

While annual U.S. precipitation increased 4 percent between 1901 and 2015, it jumped nearly 10 percent in the Great Lakes region, with much of the increase due to unusually large storms, the report said. Future precipitation is likely to happen less evenly, decreasing 5 to 15 percent in the summer by 2100.

Heat waves should become more common, posing risks for the elderly and children with asthma. By the end of the century, the region should have up to 40 additional days with temperatures exceeding 90 degrees (32.2 Celsius).

Winter snowfall should decrease in most places, although locales accustomed to lake effect squalls can expect them to dump even more snow — particularly along the Lake Ontario snowbelt in New York.

The study did not include a cost-benefit analysis of a warming climate’s likely results. Several of the scientists said in a phone news conference there may be some bright spots but that the economic impact would be mostly negative.

The region could have longer growing seasons, said Brad Cardinale of the University of Michigan’s Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research. But the report suggests that benefit could be offset by wetter springs that make it harder to plant crops, plus increasing drought and heat in summer. Corn and soybean yields are expected to drop 10 to 30 percent by the century’s end.

Drinking water quality will be degraded by more releases of untreated sewage during heavy storms and runoff of nutrients that feed harmful algae blooms, some toxic. While such blooms are common on Lake Erie and portions of Lakes Huron and Michigan, they’ve also begun showing up in deep, frigid Lake Superior — an unprecedented development, said Lucinda Johnson of the University of Minnesota at Duluth.

Beaches, dunes and shorelines will experience more erosion from heavier rainfall, the report predicted.

It’s uncertain how climate change will affect water levels in the Great Lakes, which already fluctuate periodically, the scientists said. Warmer temperatures will produce less ice cover, boosting evaporation and pushing levels down. But they could rise in years with especially heavy precipitation and temporary deep freezes caused by southward migration of frigid polar air.

Although the Trump administration has reversed federal policies intended to prevent climate change, states and local governments can take measures such as increasing energy efficiency, stepping up use of renewable sources and preventing runoff of nutrient-rich manure from large livestock farms, said Howard Learner, president of the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

“We cannot wait for the Trump administration to accept sound science,” Learner said. “We need to step up and act.”

 

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