An enormous sinkhole, described as a “gate to hell” by local media, has opened up close to one of Russia’s most popular ski resorts. The 100-foot-wide crater formed above an iron-ore mine in Sheregesh.
Terrifying footage of the incident, shared on Telegram by the channel @incident_kuzbass, shows a house teetering on the edge of an enormous smoking cavern.
There were no casualties reported as the area had already been evacuated by local authorities due to concerns over ground instability above the mine. The Tashtagol district administration said in a statement that roads and houses had not been damaged, but the main road approaching the area had been blocked and bus services suspended.
Evgeny Chuvilin, leading research scientist at the Center for Petroleum Science and Engineering at the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, told Newsweek that while the billowing crater might look dramatic, it was not unexpected and that suitable security measures had been taken to minimize the damage. However, further north, craters are forming under less predictable circumstances.
“The craters found in the permafrost in the north of Western Siberia are unique geological formations,” Chuvilin said. “They are the result of an explosive release of gas from the upper horizons of the Arctic permafrost.
“The formation of a crater is preceded by a local accumulation of gas, mainly methane, under pressure in the permafrost. Its accumulation occurs in characteristic cavities that form in the lower horizons of ground ice. Subsequently, in gas-saturated cavities, an increase in pressure occurs as a result of gas concentration.”
As the pressure builds beneath the Earth’s surface, the ground above it begins to heave. Eventually, the ground gives way. “There is an explosive release of gas with a scatter of rock fragments [and] ice at a distance of several hundred meters around the area of gas breakthrough,” the scientist said.
The formation of these craters is still quite rare, Chuvilin said, and, since 2014, only 20 such craters have been found. Many of them are enormous, with one on the Gydan peninsula stretching to a width of 650 feet.
As the planet warms, the occurrence of these underground explosions is expected to increase. “It can be said that [climate warming] causes an increase in the temperature of the upper permafrost horizons, and this reduces their mechanical characteristics and thus contributes to the realization of excess gas pressures in the upper permafrost horizons in the form of gas emissions with the formation of craters,” Chuvilin said.
Whether it is the result of mining or natural gas, Russian soil is becoming increasingly vulnerable to these “gateways to hell.”
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