Yamal CraterLast month, reindeer herders discovered a massive crater in Siberia’s Yamal Peninsula. Approximately 160 feet wide and 230 feet deep, the inexplicable hole generated a storm of speculation as to how exactly it got there. Then two more holes were discovered: a 50-foot crater near the village of Antipayuta and a 200- to 330-foot crater in the Taymyr Peninsula. 

All three holes have appeared in Siberia and the conjectures have run the gamut from methane drilling aftershocks to meteorites to UFOs. Andrei Plekhanov, Senior Researcher at the State Scientific Centre of Arctic Research, floated climate change as a possibility. 

“Could it be linked to the global warming?” he told the New York Times. “We have to continue our research to answer this question. Two previous summers – years 2012 and 2013 were relatively hot for Yamal, perhaps this has somehow influenced the formation of the crater. But we have to do our tests and research first and then say it more definitively.”

More recently, scientists believe natural releases of methane may be at the heart of the mystery. Yamal, which translates to “the end of the earth,” is an area rich in natural gas. Air samples from the bottom of the Yamal crater tested for methane levels up to 9.6 percent of the air content, which Bloomberg reports as 54,000 times normal levels.

Observers have reported smoke and flashes of light in the general areas of the craters that, combined with methane spikes in regional atmospheric monitors, lead scientists to believe a methane buildup is the likeliest explanation.

Marina Leibman, chief scientist at the Earth Cryosphere Institute and a leading permafrost researcher, says that methane can explode from the earth under specific geologic conditions. As the ice, water and soil in the permafrost heats up, the mix is ejected from the earth. But Leibman reports no signs of such craters becoming more common in the Arctic permafrost.

“You can’t say in twenty years it will be two degrees warmer so permafrost will be thawing,” she told the New York Times. “It will make it two degrees warmer, but not thawing – at least in the far north.”

A full interview with Leibman on the Yamal crater can be viewed below:

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