A mysterious crater almost the size of a football field discovered in a remote part of Siberia's Yamal peninsula known as the end of the world may have profound implications about the stability of Arctic methane and catastrophic climate change.
"The striking puncture in the earth is believed to be up to 80 metres wide but its depth is not estimated yet. A scientific team has been sent to investigate the hole and is due to arrive at the scene on Wednesday.
The cause of its sudden appearance in Yamal - its name means the 'end of the world' in the far north of Siberia - is not yet known, though one scientific claim is that global warming may be to blame."
Russian experts have ruled out speculation that meteorite impact might have caused the crater. The crater was certainly not caused by a meteorite because it has no central crater but instead has a deep hole. Meteorite impacts have far too much energy to leave an open hole. (Note: I studied meteoritics for my first year of graduate school.) Likewise any other extraterrestrial source would have far too much energy to leave an open hole. The impact site would be filled with ejecta.
It doesn't appear to be a sink hole because the hole is surrounded by a rim of ejected material. Genarally, sink holes don't have elevated rims because they are produced by collapse of surface material into a preexisting covered hole. The ejecta appears to have been produced by an explosion. This crater formed in one of Siberia's largest natural gas producing regions. Permafrost in this area is melting in response to the rapid warming of the Arctic.
The most likely cause of this crater is a methane explosion. See the update at at the end for a discussion that this crater was caused by the melting and collapse of an ice dome called a pingo. An Australian expert on Arctic landforms suggested pingo collapse created this crater, but Russian experts have not yet commented on his hypothesis.
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Via Chuck Sherwood, Senior Associate, TeleDimensions, Inc