Siberia’s ‘Doorway to The Underworld’ Is Getting So Big It’s Uncovering Ancient Forests

This is crazy!

Even though the overall impact of human-induced climate change has been and will continue to be devastating, melting permafrost has led to several ground-breaking discoveries. In Siberia, massive holes have been appearing out of nowhere, and tundra has begun to bubble with people walking on it. However, the “doorway to the underworld” has been growing at such a rate that forests, carcasses, and approximately 200,000 years of climate records have been uncovered virtually overnight. The Batagaika crater is one of several “mega-slumps” or “thermokarsts” which have been appearing in Siberia, but it is the only one located about 660 km (410 miles) north-east of the capital city of Yakutsk. Batagaika crater is now roughly 1 km (0.6 miles) long and 86 meters (282 feet) deep, and, as alluded to, it’s growing daily.

Alexander Gabyshev, Research Institute of Applied Ecology of the North

Research presented last year by Frank Günther of the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany indicates that the headwall of the crater grows approximately 10 meters (33 feet) each year, as per the last 10 years of measurements. Abnormally warm years result in 30 meters (98 feet) of annual growth. According to Günther and the BBC, “On average over many years, we have seen that there’s not so much acceleration or deceleration of these rates, it’s continuously growing. And continuous growth means that the crater gets deeper and deeper every year.” Severe flooding in 2008 caused the crater to grow in size even more rapidly.

Alexander Gabyshev, Research Institute of Applied Ecology of the North

What’s worse, as the hole grows in depth and overall size, ancient carbon stores will be released into the atmosphere and global warming will increase yet again: “Global estimations of carbon stored in permafrost is [the] same amount as what’s in the atmosphere. This is what we call positive feedback. Warming accelerates warming, and these features may develop in other places.” As mentioned, one of the small benefits to these events is that 200,000 years of climate data is now available for scrutiny and analysis. The information pertaining to long-buried forests, ancient pollen samples, and the remains of a musk ox, a mammoth, and a 4,400-year-old horse will also be invaluable—humanity can only hope that the info will help to combat human-induced climate change in some meaningful way.

Julian Murton

It is known that most of the Earth endured periods of cooling and warming throughout the last 200,000 years, but it is not yet known if Siberia endured a similar climate. However, Dr. Murton does know that the last time Siberia experienced this degree of slumping was about 10,000 years ago, when Earth transitioned out of its last Ice Age. It is also known that there are far more greenhouse gases in our atmosphere today than there was before the human industrial revolution: 400 parts per million CO2 in comparison to 280 parts per million at the end of the last Ice Age.

As per Murton and Sarah Emerson at Motherboard, “The Batagaika site contains a remarkably thick sequence of permafrost deposits, which include two wood-rich layers interpreted as forest beds that indicate past climates about as warm or warmer than today’s climate. The upper forest bed overlies an old land surface that was eroded, probably when permafrost thawed in a past episode of climate warming.” The next steps are to drill boreholes in the area, to scrutinize sediment, and to draw conclusions from history: “Ultimately, we’re trying to see if climate change during the last Ice Age [in Siberia] was characterised by a lot of variabilities: warming and cooling, warming and cooling as occurred in the North Atlantic region.”




Quaternary Research

*This content was inspired by an amazing article that can be found here.