The first series of photos and video from an ongoing investigation of a massive hole in Siberia have been released, all but confirming a very boring explanation for a very exciting phenomenon.
The gigantic crater and hole was first spotted by helicopter pilots earlier this week as they flew over the Yamal peninsula - a region appropriately called the "end of the world."
Experts and conspiracy theorists alike immediately started speculating as to what caused this mysterious geological formation to occur, claiming meteorites, to sub-surface explosions, to mole men. Perhaps it was even once the home of a sarlacc, the massive semi-sentient plant set to devour Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.
"We can definitely say that it is not a meteorite. No details yet," a spokesman from Yamal's branch of the Emergencies Ministry told The Siberian Times, when it broke the story on Tuesday.
The ministry did confirm that a team of geological experts had been set to investigate, but in the meantime experts half a globe away were already near-certain that the mysterious hole was actually the result of an unusually large pingo.
A pingo often forms when a mass of ice embedded in the earth starts to get pushed towards the surface by rising ground water. Generally, this rising water level is in-turn caused by warming temperatures, especially in the Arctic where permafrost in the ground is beginning to melt. Once the ice mass reaches the surface, it can violently rupture from the Earth, creating a ring of disturbed soil that resembles a crater. When the mass finally melts, all that remains is a damp and very deep hole.
This theory was all but confirmed by experts this week after investigating the hole for themselves. Andrey Plekhanov, Senior Researcher at the State Scientific Centre of Arctic Research, was quick to point out that the past two summers were unusually hot for Yamal, leading to increased permafrost melt.
"There is ice inside the crater which gradually thaws under the sun." he told the Times on Thursday. "Also there is melted water flowing down from its sides, you can see water traces on the pictures. The crater is filled with ice by about eighty per cent."
The investigation also found a flowing lake of ice-water at the bottom of the hole, which is estimated to be up to 230 feet deep (70m.).
"For now we can say for sure that under the influence of internal processes there was an ejection in the permafrost," Plekhanov added. "I want to stress that it was not an explosion, but an ejection, so there was no heat released as it happened."
The chance that the hole had been caused by a sub-surface explosion had been a big concern for experts who knew the hole to be close to natural gas lines, but the Emergency Ministry is confident it would have been notified had gas workers been alert to an explosion only 18 miles away.
The investigators theorize that this unusually large phenomenon may be similar to what formed the Yamal lakes.
"Such kind of processes were taking place about 8,000 years ago. Perhaps they are repeating nowadays. If this theory is confirmed, we can say that we have witnessed a unique natural process that formed the unusual landscape of Yamal peninsula," they said.
Plekhanov concluded an interview with the Times reassuring people that the cause of this hole was most certainly not supernatural.
"There is nothing mysterious about it. There is no weird or unexplained feelings there, we came back safe and sound."
[Credit: Andrey Naumenko, OGTRK "Yamal-Region"]
You can view all the photos from the initial investigation here.
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