How Is Global Warming Causing Methane Blowholes, And How Do They Cause Climate Change?

Methane blowhole photographed in Siberia by members of the Russian Center for Arctic Exploration.
Methane blowhole photographed in Siberia by members of the Russian Center for Arctic Exploration.

5. What Are Methane Blowholes?

In July of 2014, three mysterious craters appeared in northern Siberia with no existing explanation found in scientific literature to classify these craters. Soon the craters were found to be more widespread as more craters were discovered in other areas of Siberia. This led to the propagation of various theories regarding the formation of these craters ranging from alien invasions to meteorite strikes to stray missiles and even man made pranks. However, the theory that was most widely a accepted and does so to the present day is that the craters are produced by the eruption of methane gas in the melting permafrost triggered by the effects of global climate change. An expert even claimed that the explosive power of these craters was equivalent to that of 11 tons of TNT. These craters soon came to be known as methane blowholes describing their nature and formation. One of the newly discovered methane blowholes even formed a lake, surrounded by 20 small water filled craters.

4. Where Is This Occurring?

Following the initial discovery of the three methane blowholes in the Yamal Peninsula of Russia, four other large craters and clusters of several smaller ones were also discovered in the vicinity of the previously discovered craters. Thus a total of seven large craters were observed of which five were located in the Yamal Peninsula, one was located in the Yamal Autonomous District and the other one occurred near the Taimyr Peninsula, north of the Krasnoyarsk region of Siberia. The scientists believe that this is not the ultimate figure and that there could be more craters that are yet to be discovered. Among the seven large craters, only four craters have been exactly located and the remaining three have been included into the count on the basis of the accounts of reindeer herders who claimed to have seen the craters.

3. Causes of the Phenomenon

Scientists believe that climate change is the prime suspect behind the creation of the methane blowholes. These blowholes are like mini-volcanoes which release the trapped methane underneath the melting permafrost out into the open via a massive explosion that creates a gaping hole in the ground, throwing out layers of soil and sediments from the earth’s interior to collect along the rim of the crater. It is the higher temperatures (resulting from global warming) triggering the melting of the permafrost that allows the trapped, dormant underlying methane to burst out in an explosive manner. Proof that methane did blow out of these holes was obtained by measuring the air quality near the bottom of the crater which exhibited that methane concentrations in the air were 9.6% compared to the normal concentrations of 0.000179% in air under normal circumstances.

2. Self-Perpetuating Cycle

Today, observing the methane blowholes, there is great fear that more and more methane stored under permafrost in the north and as frozen hydrates under the sea floor of continental shelves, might soon escape due to global warming. This gas, 20 times more powerful in climate-altering potential than the carbon dioxide released by fossil fuels, will rapidly heat up the planet, triggering a further release of methane from below ground. Thus, a vicious feedback loop will be in action, with devastating consequences for nature and all life on Earth.

1. What Can Be Done?

Currently, there is nothing much that can be done except for speeding up the attempts to reduce global warming on a global scale. Since this human-induced adverse effect on nature is held responsible for the earth blowing up into methane blowholes it is only a modification in human lifestyle that can put a check on this mammoth issue facing the world. There is also a need to thoroughly investigate the phenomenon of creation of methane blowholes to further determine their exact cause and to present the threat before the masses to raise awareness about this issue.


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