Yerkutinskaya funnel. Picture: Aleksandr Sokolov
Pipes are built over bulging and unstable Arctic pingos prone to violent eruptions caused by ‘thawing methane gas’, as seen twice on the Yamal peninsula this year.
New analysis by satellite and helicopter shows gas pipelines run right over swelling tundra which is deeply unstable due to the release of underground methane that had been frozen in permafrost – now thawing – for thousands of years, revealed Russia’s leading expert on the new phenomenon, Professor Vasily Bogoyavlensky.
In one recent explosion, permafrost soil was thrown around 1 kilometre from the epicentre of the blast, highlighting the huge force, scientists discovered.
Flames shot into the sky, and a 50 metre-deep crater was formed from the eruption.
The process is seen as caused by the warming Arctic climate and has vast implications for the energy industry in polar regions.
Seyakhinskaya funnel. Picture: Yamal Region
Gas from Yamal is crucial to both Russia and the European energy system, with exports in particular to Poland and Germany.
Some 7,000 pingos – scientific name hydrolaccoliths – have been identified in Yamal, and one estimate is that some 700 of these mounds could be prone to eruptions.
Most are harmless but the difficulty for experts is identifying which are dangerous.
‘In a number of areas pingos – we see both from satellite data with own eyes during helicopter inspections – they literally prop up gas pipes,’ said the professor.
‘I would even use another term – in some places they jack up gas pipes.
‘Do you understand? They seem to begin to slightly bend these pipes.’
Yerkutinskaya and Seyakhinskaya funnels. Picture: Aleksandr Sokolov, Yamal region
Experts say villages and towns are also under threat, but the risk of explosions under gas supply pipelines is clearly acute.
Alexander Mazharov, deputy head of the governor of Yamalo-Nenets autonomous region, said: ‘It is cleat that it was not a meteorite, but gas emission.’
The explosion was in an Arctic river, and it was immediately submerged with water.
‘We did a good job as we took samples of water, soil and air. Now it is time for laboratories to give us results of analyses,’ he said.
Professor Vasily Bogoyavlensky. Picture: Vesti Yamal
Another crater – or funnel – that was found same week is called Yerkutinskaya. This is up to 10 metres in diameter and visible depth is 30 metres.
‘Based on satellite data, we have marked 7,000 bulges (pingos) – or even more,’ said Bogoyavlensky, deputy director of the Oil and Gas Research Institute, Moscow.
‘It doesn’t mean that every pingo carries danger but it is still clear that we can draw certain conclusions.
‘Locals calls these bulges ‘bugunyakhs’. In the West they are called pingos.’
Scientists now believe that Yamal’s landscape – pockmarked by round-shaped lakes – was substantially caused by this process over hundreds of years.
This means it was not solely the recent ‘global warming’ that was responsible but more subtle rhythms of melting every decade with the Arctic Ocean ice cover melting by some 14%.
But it is only in the past three years that the formation of the new craters has been witnessed.
In the case of the most recent explosion – now named Seyakhinskaya – it was witnessed by herders, and reindeer and dogs were seen fleeing in terror – see our previous report here.
Ice inside hydrolaccoliths thaws under the influence of high air temperature, say scientists. Water takes less volume, while the vacant space is filled with a gas mixture, substantially methane.
When the gas pressure inside the dome begins to exceed the pressure of the soil layer on the surface, gas gets out.
Usually this happens as an emission, but in some cases, there is a fierce explosion.
Trembling tundra of the Yamal Peninsula. Video credit Aleksandr Sokolov
“‘The permafrost is dying’: Bethel sees increased shifting of roads and buildings”… Now they just need some warming.
Guest post by David Middleton
‘The permafrost is dying’: Bethel sees increased shifting of roads and buildings
Author: Lisa Demer
Updated: 1 day ago calendar Published 2 days ago
BETHEL — Along the main thoroughfare here, drivers brake for warped asphalt. Houses sink unevenly into the ground. Walls crack and doors stick. Utility poles tilt, sometimes at alarming angles.
Permafrost in and around Bethel is deteriorating and shrinking, even more quickly than most places in Alaska.
Since the first buildings out here, people have struggled with the freeze and thaw of the soils above the permafrost. Now those challenges are amplified.
“What they are saying is the permafrost is dying,” said Eric Whitney, a home inspector and energy auditor in Bethel who has noticed newly eroding river banks, slanting spruce trees and homes shifting anew just weeks after being made level. “I’m just assuming it is not coming back while we’re around here.”
Above the permafrost in Southwest Alaska, an active layer of soil, often peat, freezes and thaws each year. With air temperatures warming too, the active layer is growing bigger, consuming what had been thought of as permanently frozen.
Thirty years ago, crews would hit permafrost within 4 to 6 feet of the surface, Salzburn said. Now they typically find it 8 to 12 feet down. To install piling deep enough into permafrost to support a house, they used to drill down about 18 feet.
“Now we are going to depths of 35 feet,” Salzbrun said.
“There is a definite change,” said another Bethel contractor, Rick Hanson of T and H Leveling.
“The permafrost is dying!”
“Thirty years ago, crews would hit permafrost within 4 to 6 feet of the surface, Salzburn said. Now they typically find it 8 to 12 feet down.”
Funny… Apart from this past year, Bethel AK is no warmer than it was in the 1930’s. However, thirty years ago, Bethel was definitely colder than it is now or was in the 1930’s…
There is no statistically meaningful trend in the annual, summer or winter temperatures at the Bethel AK station:
Bethel’s permafrost may be problematic due to the fact that the average annual temperature is just below freezing and gets well above 0°C in summer and it may thaw to a deeper depth than it did 30 years ago… However, there’s no evidence that the permafrost is dying any more than it would have been dying in the 1930’s.