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Meteorite impact? UFO crash? A pingo? Several explanations proposed.

Mysterious crater appears in Siberia's 'end of the world' may have link to global warming

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Friday, July 18, 2014, 6:40 AM - Russian scientists and officials are currently investigating a giant hole that mysteriously opened up in the ground in northern Siberia to figure out exactly what caused it, and one scientist believes that it may be due to global warming.

This large crater, first estimated from aerial views as between 50 and 100 metres wide, apparently opened up around two years ago, according to the Siberian Times, in the permafrost of a region of northern Siberia called Yamal - known as 'the end of the world' by locals. Its sudden appearance was a total mystery at the time, and it has remained so until now, when an expedition journeyed to the region to investigate it.

"Occurrences like this are nothing new in Yamal," a spokesman for the governor’s office told Interfax-Ural, according to Russia Times. "This happened last year, as well as two years ago… earth and ice behave unpredictably An underwater river might have moved the soil," the official added, saying how this happens again and again through permafrost melting and freezing, and that there is no emergency tied to the crater.

Credit: Google Maps

Credit: Google Maps

The appearance of the deep hole have caused some speculation about out-of-this-world origins, such as due to a meteorite strike or possibly even a UFO crash, however the investigators are focused on Earthly explanations.

"We can definitely say that it is not a meteorite. No details yet," a spokesman from the Yamal authorities told Siberian Times.

Glacial geologist Dr. Chris Fogwill, of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, has one possible explanation for it.

"Certainly from the images I’ve seen it looks like a periglacial feature, perhaps a collapsed pingo," he told the Sydney Morning Herald. A pingo is a large hill that forms in permafrost regions, as ice accumulates as a core under the ground, and grows as more water is fed to it, so that it pushes on everything around it, pushing down further into the ground and pushing the ground above it upwards to form the hill. If the ice melts, the pingo collapses into the hole, forming a crater.

However, since the sides of the crater appear to have been heaved upwards and outwards from the hole in the centre, there may be another explanation.

Given the large deposits of gas in the region, with the Bovanenkovo gas fields only 30 kilometres away, Anna Kurchatova, from Sub-Arctic Scientific Research Centre, told the Siberian Times that she thinks the crater was formed as a result of an underground explosion. According to her, the explosion was ignited from a combination of gas, ice, sand and salt inside the ground. The 'alarming' melt of the permafrost, due to global warming, she said, "released gas causing an effect like the popping of a Champagne bottle cork."

In an updated news report, the Siberian Times revealed the first close-up images from the site, with improved measurements of the oval-shaped crater's size. Estimates now put it the shaft at around 30 metres wide, with the outer lip of the crater at 60 metres wide, and it is about 50 to 70 metres deep.

The video below (all in Russian) shows the researchers beginning their investigation, including lowering a camera down into the shaft to show the bottom, which appears to be filled with muddy water:

According to the announcer in the video, Andrey Plekhanov, who appears in the green jacket, has never seen, nor heard of anything like this before, and that there are sinkholes in the Yamal region, but nothing like this.

"Most likely, it was something that bubbled up and popped," Plekhanov said in the video. "It's not a mystery, just a natural phenomenon associated with internal pressure, and possible changes in temperature."

(H/T to Simon Shipilevsky for his help in translating)

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