A doorway to 200,000 years ago

It’s no secret that Siberia’s permafrost has been on thin ice lately. Conditions are varying so much that huge holes are appearing out of nowhere, and, in some places, tundra is quite literally bubbling underneath people’s feet.

But new research has revealed that one of the biggest craters in the region, known by the local Yakutian people as the ‘doorway to the underworld’, is growing so rapidly that it’s uncovering long-buried forests, carcasses, and up to 200,000 years of historical climate records.

Known as the Batagaika crater, it’s what’s officially called a ‘megaslump’ or ‘thermokarst’.

Many of these megaslumps have been appearing across Siberia in recent years, but researchers think Batagaika could be something of an anomaly in the region, located around 660 km (410 miles) north-east of the region’s capital city of Yakutsk.

Alexander Gabyshev, Research Institute of Applied Ecology of the North

Not only is the crater already the largest of its kind, almost 1 km (0.6 miles) long and 86 metres (282 feet) deep, but it’s getting bigger all the time.

That’s not great news for climate change. The crater formation first started after a large chunk of forest was cleared nearby in the 1960s.

Because the ground was no longer shaded in the warm, summer months, it heated up more rapidly than it had in the past, eventually causing the permafrost to melt and the ground to collapse. Major flooding in 2008 made the melting even worse, and contributed to the size of the crater.

Global estimations of carbon stored in permafrost is [the] same amount as what’s in the atmosphere. As the crater continues to melt, these greenhouse gases could be released into the atmosphere, triggering more warming.

And today greenhouse gas levels in our atmosphere are much higher than they were back then – we’re now at 400 parts per million CO2, compared to 280 parts per million when the last Ice Age ended.

— source sciencealert.com

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