Black Holes of Yamal

2021, Nature  -  25 min Leave a Comment
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Russian scientists are working to solve the mystery surrounding enormous craters that have appeared in the Yamal tundra. When giant holes began forming in 2013, it wasn’t clear what was causing them. The ground exploded spontaneously, frightening indigenous Nenets people. One witness described it as if “the earth was breathing.”

Nenets reindeer herding communities say the ‘black holes’ are the work of otherworldly forces. Having relied on the harsh tundra for generations, they know it’s better to live in harmony with Mother Nature. They say it could be a bad omen or a warning from “heavenly, earthly, or underworld” powers. Other theories have proliferated in the media, claiming the Yamal craters could be the result of meteor strikes, missile blasts, or even an alien invasion!

So far researchers have identified 17 of these mysterious craters that are up to 30 meters deep and are trying to establish their cause. The Yamal peninsula is a land of permanently frozen ground increasingly affected by global warming, but this is the only permafrost zone where mysterious craters have formed.

Russian researchers think the process likely begins with a buildup of gas trapped under the surface, as explosions are preceded by the appearance of small hills. With the help of satellite images and 3D models, researchers are also learning to predict where new craters will appear next. The Yamal craters pose a threat not only to the local Nenets population but potentially to gas extraction fields as well. We discussed the curious Yamal craters with Nenets people, as well as Russian scientists who are closer than ever to untangling this geological mystery.