New phenomenon – the ‘trembling tundra’ of the Yamal Peninsula, Russia


A scientific expedition has witnessed a leaking methane gas surface bubbling phenomenon on Belyy Island in the Kara Sea, off the Yamal Peninsula coastline in Siberia, Russia. Researchers observed 15 regions of about 1 meter (3.3 feet) of trembling ground covered in grass, which emitted methane and carbon dioxide when punctured. An unusual sight has not been thoroughly explained yet, although it appears it may be caused by an abnormal heat, melting the permafrost. The phenomenon was dubbed the trembling tundra.

Scientists Alexander Sokolov, the head of ecological R&D station of the Institute of Ecology of Plants and Animals of the Ural Department of the RAS in Labytnangi, Tymen and Dorothee Ehrich, a researcher of the Tromso University, Norway, filmed the trembling tundra of the Yamal Peninsula.

According to Sokolov, the summer conditions on the Arctic island are extraordinarily warm, which causes the polar bears to move from the frozen sea. Numerous craters have formed in the permafrost on the Yamal and Taimyr regions.

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Video credit: Environmental Research Centre, Alexander Sokolov

The swelling pockets in the permafrost, revealed last week by The Siberian Times, are leaking 'alarming' levels of ecologically dangerous gases, according to scientists who have observed this 'unique' phenomenon.

Measurements taken by researchers on expeditions to the island found that after removing grass and soil from the 'bubbling' ground, the carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration released was 20 times above the norm, while the methane (CH4) level was 200 times higher. 

The maximum amount of measured carbon dioxide was 7 750 ppm and the methane amount was 375 ppm.

"It is likely that 10 days of extraordinary heat could have started some mechanisms, (and the) higher level of permafrost could have thawed and released a huge amount of gasses."

"It is evident even to amateurs that this is a very serious alarm. As for the future, we are interested in further study of the bubbles. We have discovered over a dozen of them. We need interdisciplinary study," concluded Dr. Sokolov.

On the nearby Yamal and Taimyr peninsulas, scientists are actively observing a number of craters that formed in the permafrost since 2013

Upon the discovery of Yamal craters, numerous theories sprung up to explain the phenomenon, some of which included meteorites and even missiles utilized by the military.

However, experts think they were caused by methane gas explosions, following a period of hot conditions in the northern Russia. The main theory suggests the craters were formed by the dome-shaped mounds over an ice core, the so-called pingos, which erupted under methane gas pressure. This was likely caused by permafrost melting due to changing climate conditions.

The craters observed on Yamal, range in size, from very small ones to large ones. They were created when the natural gas filled up spaces in ice humps, which caused them to eventually burst, according to Vasily Bogoyavlensky, a professor of Moscow's Oil and Gas Research Institute.

Recent reports suggested new craters have been formed on the Taimyr Peninsula, the noise of which ranged up to 100 km (62 miles) from the region. One eyewitness claims to have seen a 'glow in the sky' following the eruption.

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Yamal Peninsula craters – 2015 expedition. Credit: The Siberian Times

Featured image credit: The Siberian Times

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