As once-permanently frozen soil begins to melt, it throws off entire ecosystems. The planet is warming, and the Arctic is heating up especially quickly. There, the thawing permafrost is an increasingly alarming and hard-to-ignore phenomenon.
In 2020, melting permafrost has already caused a Russian oil tank to topple, and Arctic wildfires spotlight how climate change accelerates the meltdown.
Stunning new images show an extreme manifestation of what happens when the Arctic becomes unfrozen — in the form of a giant crater in the earth.
The 160-foot-deep crater opened up on northern Siberia’s Yamal peninsula, The Siberian Times reports.
Photos show the cylindrical hole in the ground, also called a funnel:
Funnels are the direct result of melting permafrost. As it thaws, methane gas accumulates beneath the surface of the land, and forms pockets underground. Those pockets can then erupt, launching methane into the atmosphere — along with ice and soil.
As it formed, bits of land were thrown hundreds of feet from the crater. But the most dangerous effect of the gas eruption is invisible: methane gas. Methane is a greenhouse gas 84 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. It dissipates more quickly in the atmosphere, but has devastating consequences for the environment.
Events like the Yamal funnel demonstrate how climate change often operates in a feedback loop. The same global warming that causes the methane to erupt is also fed by the eruption, as more planet-warming methane is released.
Scientists from NASA previously predicted that, within the next few decades, the greenhouse gases released by thawing permafrost will be significant. A 2018 study found that in the next 300 years, the carbon dioxide emitted by thawing land will be 10 times the amount humans emitted in a single year.
Crater findings — The crater in northern Siberia is a physical manifestation of climate change’s dramatic effects. Perhaps it’s not coincidental that it slightly resembles a portal to the underworld, or the devastating sinkhole from The Good Place.
This isn’t the first time a funnel like this has opened up. A similar hole appeared in 2014 on the Yamal peninsula. Scientists said at the time that a warm 2012 summer played into the funnel’s emergence.
The new funnel is believed to be the largest to suddenly appear in recent years. Researchers say it also holds scientific significance. But they won’t yet announce what that is.
Vasily Bogoyavlensky, professor at the Russian Oil and Gas Research Institute, said the funnel “carries a lot of additional scientific information, which I am not yet ready to disclose.”