In 2011, scientists warned that giant plumes of methane gas could fast-track planetary warming. And now – a version of this prediction has come to pass in Siberia. Despite being at the “ends of the Earth,” Yamal Peninsula’s three methane craters contain a cautionary tale for us all.
While more research needs to be done before we can jump to hasty conclusions, the details surrounding the craters that suddenly emerged in Siberia point to a climatic disaster of epic proportions, the kind Bill McKibben from 350.org has been warning us about for decades.
Three craters have appeared in the Arctic environment, where temperatures have risen on average 5 degrees Celsius in the last couple of years, according to the Washington Post. One is nearly 100 feet in diameter and contains extraordinarily high levels of methane.
“Gas pressure increased until it was high enough to push away the overlaying layers in a powerful injection, forming the crater,” “href=”http://www.nature.com/news/mysterious-siberian-crater-attributed-to-methane-1.15649″>explained geochemist Hans-Wolfgang Hubberten of Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute.
The other two craters have diameters of 45 feet and 13 feet. And while the pockmarked peninsula poses a particular risk to local people, especially considering that industrial plants have been erected on the frozen land that is now melting away, the global community will be affected as well.
Despite the danger of investigating this “spooky” unstable landmass, archaeologist Andrei Plekhanov from the Scientific Center of Arctic Studies in Salekhard, Russia reported in a recent Nature article that the air at the bottom of the crater consists of up to 9.6 percent methane – compared to the standard 0.000179 percent.
This is worrisome because methane is far more potent than carbon dioxide when it comes to trapping greenhouse gases in our atmosphere – the one atmosphere that everyone on planet Earth shares.
“Pound for pound, the comparative impact of [methane gas] on climate change is over 20 times greater than [carbon dioxide] over a 100-year period,” the Environmental Protection Agency reported.
NIMBYism refers to the idea that as long as something bad (pollution, mining, social injustice) is taking place anywhere other than my back yard, it’s not my problem. But the thawing permafrost and subsequent release of methane bombs is everyone’s problem.
Image of the Siberian crater via AFP/Getty Images