A phenomenon in Siberia (a northeastern section of Russia) is leaving scientists amazed... and making them a little afraid, too. The ground is literally bubbling up, thanks to underground pockets of methane gas. This gas is so flammable, that many of these bubbles could explode at any time. This has already happened in many areas, causing sinkholes, craters, and chasms.
But what is causing this?
Natural gas or natural disaster?
Methane is something that many of us use regularly. It is the main compound found in natural gas, which is used as fuel in furnaces and stoves all over North America. It is a fossil fuel, but it burns more cleanly than coal or petroleum (this means that its exhaust is not as toxic as those fuels).
However, methane is still something that is of concern to climate scientists. Why? If you burn methane, it creates carbon dioxide (CO2), but not in staggering amounts. But unburned, it is 25 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than CO2. In other words, it doesn't take a lot of methane in the atmosphere to begin to have an effect.
Bubbling up from underneath
This gas is generally found buried underground. But lately, there has been a bit of a methane crisis in the Arctic. As you may have heard, this part of the world is getting warmer. Usually, when we talk about this, we are discussing how the ice caps are melting. But something else is thawing out. The permafrost, which is soil that is normally frozen solid all year round.
As the permafrost thaws, the methane that has been locked underground for thousands of years works its way toward the surface. And in Siberia, it is causing the land to swell and expand.
In some places, you can push the ground up and down, as though you were stepping on a waterbed!
The biggest reason that scientists are concerned with this is that, as we've discussed, methane is an explosive gas. Reseachers estimate that there are about 7,000 of these swollen bubbles in Siberia. Eventually, many of these will explode without warning, and the end result can be pretty crazy. Look out below...!
Scientists are working hard to discover which of these bubbles are a threat to locals and which are not. Until then... don't jump on the bubbles, folks!