In 2016, researchers discovered swollen gas bubbles along Siberia’s remote Bely Island. From this study they found 15 spots where the ground was bubbling underneath and became soft enough to feel squishy and jelly-like as they walked on them. After further research, scientists have found approximately 7000 bubbles within the Yamai and Gaydan peninsulas. Now they’re worried that these gas bubbles could explode at any moment with disastrous consequences.
What Exactly are These Gas Bubbles?
These bumps found along Siberia are known as gas bubbles or 'bulgunyakh' in the local Yakut language. What researchers have found is that these bubbles contain greenhouse gases such as methane and carbon dioxide. Last year local researchers Alexander Sokolov and Dorothee Ehrich decided to investigate and find out what lay under the dirt and grass mounds. To their surprise, there were gases seeping into the atmosphere. There was up to 1000 times more methane and 25 times more carbon dioxide than in the surrounding air.
But that’s not the only negative impact these gas bubbles have on the environment. According to the director of the Yamal Department for Science and Innovation, Alexey Titovsky, the bubbles will eventually explode, releasing more gases and creating gigantic funnels. Once collapsed, the bubbles can form small or large craters in the ground, but now they’re being linked to the appearance of massive sinkholes all across Siberia.
One example of a giant sinkhole potentially created by exploding gas bubbles is the 98 foot (30 meter wide) crater on the Yamal Peninsula. When this sinkhole was discovered and investigated in 2014, researchers found that at the bottom of the crater there were high concentrations of methane, reaching 9.6%. This was an unusual finding because according to Andrei Plekhanov, archaeologist from the Scientific Centre of Arctic Studies in Russia, the surrounding air in the area only contains 0.000179% of methane.
Link to Climate Change and Permafrost Melt
Research on gas bubbles in Siberia is ongoing and has yet to be published but researchers have begun to hypothesize what has caused this mass appearance of gas bubbles. They believe that the gas bubbles are linked to the unusually high temperatures that have caused the Siberian tundra’s permafrost to melt. In July 2016 daily temperatures in Siberia were reaching 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius). Local researchers believe that the increasing temperatures are linked to climate change.
In the last several decades the temperatures in northern Eurasia have begun to rise. According to the spokesperson for the Ural branch of the Russian Academy of Science, the gas bubbles have begun to appear at higher latitudes where permafrost is melting at alarming rates. Vasily Bogoyavlensky from the academy says that these gas bubbles originate from an ancient shallow gas reservoir that lays 1,640 to 3,937 feet (500 to 1200 meters) below the Earth’s surface. He also mentions that as the gas bubbles grow, the ice core melts and the soil covering the ice core starts to crack. Under excessive ice pressure the mounds will start to explode.
There are a number of research teams studying the Siberian tundra to find out more about these strange gas bubbles. But until researchers have more information, their priority is to map out the gas bubbles that are most likely to explode. They want to keep locals in the area safe and ensure that they know where these explosive hot spots are located. According to Titovsky, “scientists are working on detecting and structuring signs of potential threat, like the maximum height of a bump and pressure that the earth can withstand.”