This Eerie 'Doorway to the Underworld' Crater in Siberia Grows More Massive Each Year
Locals call it the "doorway to the underworld" for a reason. The massive Batagaika crater is known as a "megaslump," the biggest in the world at 0.6 miles (one kilometer) long and 282 feet (86 meters) deep. However, as a new paper published in the journal Quaternary Research revealed, these numbers won't last because the crater is showing no signs of stopping its rapid growth.
According to a report from BBC, the crater began in the 1960s when deforestation exposed the ground to the sunlight, which warmed the soil and the thousand-year-old permafrost beneath it. This eventually led to melting of the ice, then the ground caving to make the crater even bigger. Warm temperatures and flooding continue to sink the land at a rapid rate.
Findings by Frank Günther of the Alfred Wegener Institute in a separate study revealed that the head wall of the crater grew by an average of 33 feet (10 meters) per year in the past decade. There's also evidence that the side wall could extend to a nearby eroding valley, which will likely trigger even more growth.
As layers and layers of soil and ice give way, more of the Earth's history is uncovered to scientists. In the Quaternary Research study, University of Sussex's Julian Murton and his team discovered that the currently exposed sediment layers could reveal data on 200,000 years of climatic history.
Remains of ancient trees and soil from thousands of years ago could help scientists understand permafrost, as well as more of the history of the planet, according to a report from Siberian Times last year. Other organisms uncovered include a 4,400-year-old carcass of a Holocene era foal, a mummified carcass of a bison calf and remains of ancient bison, horses, elks, mammoths and reindeer.
However, the perpetual growth of the crater isn't all good news for scientists. Ice deposits beneath the Earth contain a lot of organic matter, which means plenty of carbon. When the permafrost melts, microbes can consume the carbon and produce waste: methane and carbon dioxide.
Methane and carbon dioxide are greenhouse gases that contribute greatly to the warming of the Earth.
"Global estimations of carbon stored in permafrost is [the] same amount as what's in the atmosphere," Günther told BBC.
Unfortunately, the crater is showing no signs of stopping its growth anytime soon, so its effect on global warming seems inevitable -- if not already in action.