Analysis and Commentary
Yamal crater analysis could up new research horizons
© Anton Sinitskiy

Yamal crater analysis could up new research horizons

Scientists have been studying gas emissions that create craters in the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Area for many years. Arctic.ru has interviewed Anton Sinitsky, Director of the Yamal-based Arctic Research Center, on the causes of this phenomenon and its possible consequences for the area.

In late June 2017, new deep craters appeared in the Yamal Peninsula. Mikhail Okotetto, a resident of Seyakhi village, witnessed the first crater's formation on June 28. Biologist Alexander Sokolov working with an expedition at the Yerkut scientific station reported the second crater.

The Arctic Research Center's experts inspected the craters and found out that the Seyakhi crater on the flood-plain of the Myudriyakha River was filled with water and continued to emit gas. They measured the crater's central section and estimated its depth at over 20 meters. The crater's external diameter is 53 meters along its parapet. The Yerkut crater has a diameter of about ten meters and is about 20 meters deep.

It is still too early to talk about what exactly caused the formation of craters in the Yamal Peninsula this year. But scientists believe that the craters owe their appearance to local geological characteristics and hot weather. While studying the Seyakhi crater, researchers found traces of gas emission followed by ignition, as proved by charred sand and plants on the crater's parapet.

"We have seen nothing like this in previous craters. If we are able to determine the chemical composition of the gas and to find out whether it is emitted from traditional deep horizons or from permafrost layers at a depth of 50-100 meters, this would open up new research horizons," Sinitsky noted.

Vasily Bogoyavlensky, deputy director for research at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Oil and Gas Problems Institute, estimates that ten similar craters have been discovered in the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Area. Sinitsky is confident that three craters have formed in the area over the past three years. "We had spotted similar objects in previous years that now look like lakes with parapets, but I cannot say that they are exactly the same craters that had formed at an earlier stage," he explained.

We should expect other craters to form in Yamal, Sinitsky added. This phenomenon does not threaten city residents because craters are unlikely to appear in residential areas. However, they can form in towns where gas industry workers are employed on a rotating basis, and they can damage infrastructure that stretches over long distances, including gas pipelines and railways.

Scientists continue to study Yamal craters and to analyze ore-and-soil samples from deep layers, as well as satellite photos. We also need to study local lakes, Sinitsky noted. "Their shape resembles that of recently formed craters. It appears that this process (explosions) also happened in the past," he explained.