Siberian Tundra Is Exploding Again, Thanks to Climate Crisis

Warming climate crisis conditions thaws permafrost, causing tundra to explode into the blue sky.
Brad Bergan

The tundra in Russia's northwest Siberia is exploding again.

A 165-foot-deep (50-meter) crater tore open in the northwest region of an area typically considered one of the coldest on the planet — until 2020, during which the new crater has become the latest sign of Siberia's hot crater summer, according to a local news source.


Tundra in Siberia exploding from climate change, creates craters

The journalists who discovered the hot crater were assigned to cover something else on the Yamal Peninsula in northwest Siberia when they chanced upon the uncannily circular wound in the Earth. Footage from the local news team shows the unbroken tundra surrounding it blown open by the ominous pit to hell, and was captured on video in July and released over the weekend, reports Gizmodo.

The area looks (and feels) like a bomb crater, but the explosion came not from above — it came from the mounting pressure below. Tundra in Siberia and elsewhere in the world is undergirded with permafrost — a frozen soil with loads of the greenhouse gas called methane.

Sadly, the climate crisis has caused permafrost to thaw out, in turn releasing methane into the atmosphere. This isn't good because methane is a greenhouse gas with roughly 30 times the potency of carbon dioxide, which permafrost also releases. Entropy breeds entropy, it seems.

Climate crisis accelerates permafrost thawing in tundra

Rapid changes in the Earth's permafrost can sometimes cause it to fire a giant chunk of tundra into the air.

Notably, methane is also a main ingredient of natural gas, which is obviously flammable and even explodes under pressure. Arctic Program Director at Woodwell Climate Research Center Sue Natali told Gizmodo in an email that the gas can build up pressure inside pockets of unfrozen soil of permafrost called cryopegs.

"Warming and thawing of surface soil weakens the frozen 'cap,' resulting in the blowout that causes the craters," said Natili, to Gizmodo.

Russia sees hottest summer on record

The Yamal peninsula has seen an increasing number of craters since 2014. Natali added there haven't been enough to classify them as a local feature of the area, but the structure of permafrost alone has a thick icy layer, in addition to numerous cryopegs and methane-rich natural gas deposits which together might serve as a potential explanation for why the Siberian tundra has more craters than anywhere else in the Arctic.

The chance for blowouts has only increased as the climate crisis continues to worsen. Throughout Siberia, conditions have heated up and are catching fire all the time. Temperatures soared to 100ºF (37.8ºC) in June — the hottest year in Russia on record, reports Gizmodo.

Wildfires have burned through the country since April, with a few kindlings raging back to life after an overwintering period in carbon-rich peat soil. Russian temperatures averaged between 7.2 and 12.4ºF (6 and 8ºC) higher than normal last winter, with warmer pockets emerging across Siberia.

Climate crisis incidents abound in warming world

The increased heat probably weakened local permafrost, edging it closer to unseemly developments over the summer. Besides the explosion, permafrost collapse also helped create a gigantic diesel spill that culminated in the contamination of an erstwhile-pristine lake in Siberia.

"I think it is very likely that heat waves can and are triggering abrupt events in the Arctic," said Natali to Gizmodo. "This is pretty important, because these events (craters, thermokarsts) are largely irreversible."

As the climate crisis worsens, the tundra in Siberia will continue to explode, and while this doesn't feel close-to-home, other developments — like rising waters and unprecedented hurricane activity — will continue to serve as a reality check to notions of maintaining the harmful status quo of 20th-century industry.

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