As a thinly disguised Henry Kissinger in The Pink Panther Strikes Again said, "Mr. President, everybody, calm down." What do we really know? Conspiracy hypotheses have already cropped up on both sides of the story. The Russians have the most colorful one, positing that MH17 was actually MH370, the Malaysia Airlines flight that disappeared March 8, 2014 over the Indian Ocean. The plane "was taken to an American military base, Diego-Garcia.” It was then taken to Holland, filled with corpses. After take-off, the pilots ejected, the plane was flown on auto-pilot over the Ukraine, but instead of being shot down was blown up with a bomb packed on board. Quite a saber-rattling hypothesis, isn't it?
But not one I would necessarily subscribe to. There's a more in-depth analysis of what's really wrong with the MH17 story from 21st Century Wire. Looking at available evidence that Ukrainian Air Traffic Control ordered MH17 off of its original flight path directly into the war zone, as well as documenting a number of statements by the Ukrainian government that turned out to be false, they conclude that the tragic downing of MH17 was "a highly coordinated, but failed false flag event." I'm not necessarily subscribing to that theory, but I think it's worth keeping tabs on, considering the contradictory evidence they've accumulated, and exploring further. It's certainly better than being sucked into the black hole of Cold War Revival rhetoric that the REM is ratcheting up.
But that's not the Russian black hole I really want to write about. As fascinating as the story is, with its 9/11 echoes of strangely "coincidental" military drills, it might in the long-view of history take a back seat to the literal black hole that recently appeared in Siberia. Truthout did a great analysis of what this bizarre event might really mean:
A Mysterious Hole at the End of the WorldThursday, 17 July 2014 15:26 By The Daily Take Team, The Thom Hartmann Program | Op-Ed
The wilderness of Siberia has just gotten a lot more mysterious.
Helicopter pilots flying over the Yamal Peninsula have discovered a giant crater-like hole in the Siberian tundra. The hole is reportedly large enough to fit "several" of the very helicopters that discovered it.
The hole, estimated to be 150 to 250 feet across, appears to have been made by some sort of blast, and is thought to be around two years old. It's also about 30 miles from one of the Yamal Peninsula's largest natural gas fields. The Yamal Peninsula is Russia's main production area for gas.
The Russian internet is ablaze with speculation about the origin of the giant hole, from a UFO drilling experiment, to a massive meteor impact.
But one of the more plausible explanations for the giant hole comes from Anna Kurchatova, from the Sub-Arctic Scientific Research Centre in Russia. She told The Siberian Times that the crater was likely formed by a water-salt and gas mixture that caused an underground explosion.
That gas that she is referring to is methane.
Methane is one of the strongest of the natural greenhouse gases, about 80 times more potent than CO2, and while it may not get as much attention as its cousin CO2, it certainly can do as much, if not more, damage to our planet. And right now, there are trillions of tons of it embedded in a kind of ice slurry called methane hydrate or methane clathrate crystals in the Arctic, including in the Siberian tundra, and in the seas around the continental shelves all around the world.
But thanks to global warming, the permafrost and Arctic sea ice, which has trapped that methane gas for thousands of years, are melting, releasing methane into the atmosphere. In the case of the giant crater, Kurchatova believes that it was melted and released methane that interacted with other elements to cause a massive explosion.
If so, we can expect to start seeing a lot more of these giant craters to start popping up around the world. That's because the permafrost and Arctic sea ice that currently trap trillions of tons of methane underground are melting at unprecedented rates.
In fact, as Gaius Publius points out over at America Blog, just about every reputable projection on the loss of Arctic sea ice has been wrong in a very, very bad way.
The lack of sea ice cover in the Arctic that we're seeing today wasn't supposed to happen for 20+ more years according to 13 of the most accurate models. As all that sea ice melts, the Arctic ice which once reflected sunlight and prevented global warming, becomes a very blue ocean that absorbs heat and causes even more melting.
And this all means that more and more methane is being released into the atmosphere much faster than expected, speeding up the process of global warming and climate change.
Meanwhile, Researchers at the University of Alaska Fairbanks International Arctic Research Center have found that Arctic methane is leaking out from the ocean floor nearly twice as fast as was previously thought.
The researchers found that the East Siberian Arctic Shelf is releasing at least 17 million tons of methane into the atmosphere each year.
As Malcolm Light writes over at Arctic News, and as I talked about in the documentary Last Hours, there are such large amounts of methane trapped underneath the Arctic surface, that if only a fraction of that methane was released, it could lead to a jump in the average temperature of the Earth's atmosphere of at least 10 degrees Celsius, and produce a Permian-like mass extinction which would wipe out the human race.
Basically, the methane that is trapped underground in the Arctic is like a giant ticking time bomb, and if it goes off, we're all screwed.This article was first published on Truthout and any reprint or reproduction on any other website must acknowledge Truthout as the original site of publication.
Unless we start seriously fighting back against global warming and climate change, giant craters in the Siberian wilderness will be the least of our worries.
If this phenomenon is truly linked to global warming, we would expect to see more than just one. One week later, a second one appeared in the same region! Robert Scribbler has a great blog entry on it:
Is This the Compost Bomb’s Smoking Gun? Second Mysterious Hole Found in Yamal RussiaThey call it ‘the end of the Earth.’
Yamal, Russia — a stretch of tundra flats and peat bogs stretching as far as the eye can see before terminating into the chill waters of the Kara. A rather stark and desolate place, one that was mostly unknown until a massive and strange hole appeared in the earth there last week. Since that time, the strange hole has been the butt of every kind of wild speculation and controversy.
(MODIS satellite shot of Yamal Siberia — the peninsula located in center frame and recent site of mysterious holes that may have been caused by the catastrophic destabilization of thawing methane gas embedded in the permafrost. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)
The hole itself was an alien feature. “We haven’t seen anything like this before,” would be an entirely accurate statement. All about the hole was a large pile of debris — overturned earth, huge chunks of soil piled up in a signature very familiar to the ejecta of a meteor impact crater.
Approaching the hole edge, we came to a gradual slope that proceeded downward for about 40 feet at about a 35 degree incline. Along the surface of this incline, both the unfrozen soil cap and the frozen permafrost were visible.
But it wasn’t until we hit the bottom edge of this incline that we encountered the strangest feature of all — a sheer cliff, rounded in a shape like the smooth bore of a gun, and plunging straight down through icy permafrost for about another hundred and twenty feet before revealing a basement cavern slowly filling with melt.
It’s a combination of features that appears to be one half impact crater and one half sink hole.
(The freakish combination of features including apparent ejecta piled around a crater with a sheer tunnel coring 220 feet down. Image source: The Siberian Times)
One theory on the feature is that it might be a pingo — a melting of a permafrost water pocket left over by an ancient lake that was long ago buried by sediment. But a pingo would typically form in a manner similar to a sinkhole and would probably not have apparent ejected material piled around its mouth.
Another theory, advanced by Russian Arctic scientists, is that a pocket of gas beneath the permafrost spontaneously destabilized — either through chemical or physical processes. The destabilized gas then is thought to have violently blown away the surface layer “like the popping of a cork in a champagne bottle.”
The Compost Bomb
Key to the second theory is that thawing permafrost contains vast stores of volatile methane at various depths. The methane is either trapped in pockets encased in ice and soil or locked in a water lattice structure forming what is called methane hydrate. Both forms are unstable, though they are often buried beneath tens to hundreds of meters of permafrost. Researchers have remained unsure how rapidly this methane would release and its rate of release is key to how fast the world will warm this century in response to human-caused greenhouse gas heat forcing.
Over 1,400 gigatons of carbon are sequestered in the permafrost. Much of this immense store is biological material buried over the 2 million year span of below-freezing conditions dominating much of the Arctic region of our planet. During this time, gradual glacial advance and retreat froze and refroze the earth in layers entombing a vast load of the stuff. Now, human warming is beginning to unlock it.
Permafrost spans much of the Arctic, under-girding Siberia, far Northern Europe, the northern tiers of Canada, and most of Alaska. It also rests beneath a flooded zone called the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. Initial reports and research from these regions indicate an ongoing release of millions of tons of methane and CO2 annually. Bubbling seabed stores from the shallow East Siberian Arctic Shelf have caused some to speculate that releases of 1 billion tons to 50 billion tons of methane could be possible during the coming years and decades.
(Is a sleeping dragon awakening in the Arctic? Map of wide expanse of permafrost containing 1,400 gigatons of carbon. Image provided by NASA’s CARVE methane research experiment which is now under the aegis of ABOVE.
Peter Wadhams, in an article for Nature last year, attempted to bracket the potential impacts of such large releases. In the article, Wadhams estimated that a 50 gigaton emission from the Arctic methane store over the next two decades would increase global temperatures by about 0.6 C above the current rate of warming and force temperatures through the 2 C barrier by 2035 (ironically, Michael Mann comes to the same conclusion without implicit inclusion of a powerful methane release). The costs in human lives and economic damage from such a release would be immense and it would risk further outbursts from the large and vulnerable carbon store.
And though the potential for such very large releases remain highly controversial among scientists, the massive pile of thawing permafrost carbon is an ominously large and unstable store facing off against an initial human warming that is more than six times faster than at any time during the geological past.
In the shadow of this emerging and hard to gauge threat, a term emerged to encapsulate the vast warming potential stored in permafrost, should it release and hit the atmosphere. The term — compost bomb — alludes to the risk involved in pushing the two-million-year-old Northern Hemisphere permafrost stores into rapid thaw.
Mystery Hole — A Smoking Gun?
With the spontaneous emergence of a strange hole that Russian scientists are linking to destabilized gas pockets within the permafrost due to thaw, it became possible that, yet one more, explosive mechanism for release had presented itself. And now, today, a second and similar hole has been discovered:
According to the Moscow Times:
“Global warming, causing an alarming melt in the ice under the soil, released gas causing an effect like the popping of a Champagne cork,” the news report said, citing an expert at the Subarctic Scientific Research Center.And so, in the course of just one week, we have two very strange holes that Russian scientists are linking to destabilizing gas pockets beneath the thawing tundra. Smoking barrel of the compost bomb? Or as a commenter here called Colorado Bob puts it:
The first hole is estimated to be about 50 meters wide and 70 meters deep, with water from melting permafrost cascading down its sides into the icy deposit below.
The second hole is “exactly” like the first one, but “much smaller,” local lawmaker Mikhail Lapsui told the Interfax-Ural news agency. “Inside the crater itself, snow can be seen. (emphasis added)”
We’re going to see the tundra breaking out in these things like zits on a teenager.Let’s hope these are mere sink-holes from collapsing ice pockets in the permafrost. Let’s hope there’s another explanation for what appears to be ejecta piled around these holes. Let’s hope that these ‘zits’ showing up in the Yamal permafrost remain local to the area. And let’s hope we don’t start seeing similar explosive outbursts from tundra in other regions, or worse, along the seabed of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf.
Lastly, let’s hope that any outbursts remain small in size and do not lift very large sections of land or submerged sea bed.
In any case, these initial reports are not promising and it appears we may both have a compost bomb smoking gun and a potential mechanism for rapid destabilization and explosive release of gas pockets deeply embedded in the frozen tundra all wrapped into one. Not very reassuring to say the least.
Mystery Behind Giant Hole Clearer as Second Hole Discovered
Now There Are Two Weird Holes in Siberia
The Siberian Times
Impacts of Large Releases from Monstrous Arctic Methane Stores
Far Worse Than Being Beaten With a Hockey Stick
Hat tip to todaysguestis
Hat tip to Colorado Bob
So why do I consider this Russian black hole story more important than the political black hole the REM is trying to drag us into? Because if in fact, the scientific research currently being conducted on the literal black holes verify that this phenomenon is a destabilized methane ejection and that global warming is responsible, then we staring the possibility of imminent runaway climate change in the face. Once the permafrost goes, that's an irreversible feedback loop that no amount of human mitigation can stop.
We're talking about an existential threat. Sure, Putin has nukes. The West has nukes. But because that existential threat is more explicit, I find it ultimately less threatening. Those are the devils we know. Methane is a bit more mysterious to the vast majority as an existential threat. Almost invisible.
That is, until giant gaping black holes show up in the landscape.