Siberia's frozen landscape, locked in time for thousands of years, may be coming back to life in violent fashion.
Scientists using both satellite imagery and ground-based surveys have discovered more than 7,000 bulging bubbles of gas on Siberia's Yamal and Gydan peninsulas. These potentially dangerous protrusions contain mostly methane and create a surreal ripple effect on the ground when stepped on. A video taken last summer on Siberia's Bely Island showed first-hand the bizarre nature of this phenomenon.
Because methane is extremely flammable, there is increasing concern that these bulges will explode in the near future. The vast region is already pockmarked with craters from similar explosions, including a 260-foot-wide hole discovered in 2014. Such hidden dangers in particular pose a threat to both transport infrastructure and Siberia's energy sector.
As the emergence of these bulges in a new phenomenon, scientists say they're likely caused by the region's first thaw in more than 11,000 years.
“Their appearance at such high latitudes is most likely linked to thawing permafrost, which in is in turn linked to overall rise of temperature on the north of Eurasia during last several decades,” a spokesperson for the Russian Academy of Science told The Siberian Times.
Besides the potential for rapidly forming sinkholes and explosions, these bulges also represent a significant addition to greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. The release of methane from Siberian permafrost, a gas more than 25 times more potent than carbon in trapping heat in the atmosphere, rose from 3.8 million tons in 2006 to more than 17 million tons in 2013.
The researchers say they will continue to map the gas bubble formations throughout 2017 to determine which pose the most serious danger. With no end in sight, however, for the region's warming trend, it's clear that anyone traveling through Siberia will have to contend with this growing threat for the foreseeable future.