World's biggest permafrost crater in Russia’s Far East thaws as planet warms

July 22, 2023 12:08 pm

[Source: Reuters]

Stunning drone footage has revealed details of the Batagaika crater, a one-kilometre-long gash in Russia’s Far East that forms the world’s biggest permafrost crater.

In the video two explorers clamber across uneven terrain at the base of the depression, marked by irregular surfaces and small hummocks, which began to form after the surrounding forest was cleared in the 1960s and the permafrost underground began to melt, causing the land to sink.

“We locals call it ‘the cave-in,'” local resident and crater explorer Erel Struchkov told Reuters as he stood on the crater’s rim. “It developed in the 1970s, first as a ravine.

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Then by thawing in the heat of sunny days, it started to expand.”

Scientists say Russia is warming at least 2.5 times faster than the rest of the world, melting the long-frozen tundra that covers about 65% of the country’s landmass and releasing greenhouse gases stored in the thawed soil.

The “gateway to the underworld,” as some locals in Russia’s Sakha Republic also call it, has a scientific name: a mega-slump.

And while it may attract tourists, the slump’s expansion is “a sign of danger,” said Nikita Tananayev, lead researcher at the Melnikov Permafrost Institute in Yakutsk.

“In future, with increasing temperatures and with higher anthropogenic pressure, we will see more and more of those mega-slumps forming, until all the permafrost is gone,” Tananayev told Reuters.