Enormous, 165 Ft Deep Crater Opens on Siberia's Arctic Through 'Colossal Forces of Nature'

A giant crater has been discovered on Siberia's Arctic tundra, with scientists saying the 165 foot deep hole was formed through an explosion that hurled soil and ice hundreds of feet from the epicenter.

The crater was spotted inadvertently by a film crew that was flying overhead for work on an unrelated project. Footage from the team, from Vesti Yamal TV, was released by the broadcaster and dubbed a "sensational find." Video of the crater shows its vast scale.

Following the find, the crater was visited by a team of researchers from the Russian Academy of Sciences, Vesti Yamal TV reports.

"This object is unique," Vasily Bogoyavlensky, Doctor of Engineering Sciences, is quoted as saying. "It carries a lot of additional scientific information, which I am not yet ready to disclose. This is the subject of scientific publications. We have to analyze all this, build three-dimensional models."

This is the latest—but by far the largest—crater to be found on the Yamal peninsula in recent years. The presence of these craters gained global headlines in 2014 when a 130 foot wide crater was found in the region.

It is thought they form when permafrost—ground that is permanently frozen—thaws. The thawing leads organic matter trapped in the soil to break down, which leads to the production of methane.

When enough methane builds up, it produces an explosion, leaving a huge crater in its place. "Gas-saturated cavities are formed in the permafrost," Bogoyavlensky said. "That is, in the literal sense, a void space filled with gas with high pressure."

The latest crater has been given the number 17, as this is how many of this type have been found in Yamal since 2014.

"What we saw...is striking in its size and grandeur," Evgeny Chuvilin, a leading researcher at the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, who examined the new crater, told Vesti Yamal TV. "These are the colossal forces of nature that create such objects."

How many craters like this exist on the Arctic tundra is not known. In 2017, the Siberian Times reported there are over 700 sites on Yamal where the ground is "swelling"—potentially an indication of methane building beneath.

It is thought more are emerging as a result of climate change, with warmer temperatures causing increased permafrost thaw.

Scientists are concerned about further explosions as Yamal has the biggest concentration of natural gas fields on Earth. These could be threatened by explosions caused by the build-up of methane. Researchers have also warned about the future stability of towns and cities built on permafrost. As the ground thaws and becomes less stable, buildings could collapse, roads can rupture and other infrastructure could be destroyed.

yamal crater
A crater found on the Yamal peninsula in 2014. A TV crew recently spotted a new crater in the region that was 165 feet deep. VASILY BOGOYAVLENSKY/AFP via Getty Images