A scientific research expedition arrived on site Wednesday at the massive hole that seems to have suddenly appeared in the Siberian permafrost in an area known as the "End of the World." Their mission: Observe, photograph, videotape, and take samples from the crater and its surroundings in order to determine just what might have caused the crater to form. And although the visiting experts weren't exactly certain what produced the Yamal Peninsula mystery crater by the time they left later in the day, they knew it wasn't caused by a UFO landing, a meteorite impact, or a gas explosion. And at least one scientist is saying the crater isn't a mystery, either.
Andrey Plekhanov, Senior Researcher at the State Scientific Centre of Arctic Research, openly scoffed at the idea that the Yamal crater was formed by UFOs or aliens, telling the Siberian Times July 17, "There is nothing mysterious about it. There is no weird or unexplained feelings there, we came back safe and sound."
Plekhanov insists the crater formed via natural processes.
"For now we can say for sure that under the influence of internal processes there was an ejection in the permafrost. I want to stress that it was not an explosion, but an ejection, so there was no heat released as it happened."
Plekhanov and crew came to the conclusion that there was no gas explosion (the crater is located in an area that sits atop the largest natural gas reservoir in Russia and about twenty miles from the extensive Bovanenkovo gas field), but a "build-up of excessive pressure," the scientist told the Associated Press. The theory had been part of the original round of speculative explanations, with some pointing to the dark "burned" outer edges seen in photos taken earlier in the week as proof of an explosion.
The research team, which included a fellow scientist from Cryosphere Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences and a Yamal Emergency Ministry official, quickly found out several things about the crater. It was smaller than originally thought (an estimated 262 feet wide was reduced to roughly 100 feet in diameter, although the Associated Press reported it at around 200 feet wide). It is about 230 feet deep and contains a lake of ice, which the researchers estimated as filling up to as much as 80 percent of the crater. Scientists also observed water cascading down the inside walls.
The research team actually went inside the crater. However, they did not go into or study the lake and have not determined the actual depth of the crater.
Video of the Yamal crater provided by Siberian Times can be found on YouTube, where curiosity in the strange formation has driven over 2.3 million views to date.
Besides not being the result of a gas explosion or a meteorite impact, and although it is believed that the strange hole may have been formed as a result of intense underground pressure and an ejection episode, scientists could not definitively explain the presence of the giant anomaly.
It could have formed due to global warming, it has been suggested, but Plekhanov says that additional studies will have to be done to provide a connection. But the last two summers in the region were hot ones and a warming of the permafrost to produce the phenomenon could not be ruled out.
A warming trend in Yamal, which translates to "End of the World," would also not rule out the theory proposed by Dr. Chris Fogwill at the University of New South Wales in Australia, who suggested that the crater may have been formed by a hydrolaccolith, or "pingo." A "pingo" is a block of Earth-covered ice that can be found in the Arctic and subarctic. If large enough, a giant hole like the one formed in Siberia could result once the ice melted.
Weather.com notes that Andry Plekhanov's observations would support Fogwill's theory.
"We have taken soil and ice samples which went straight to laboratories," the scientist said. "We can be certain in saying that the crater appeared relatively recently, perhaps a year or two ago; so it is a recent formation, we are not talking about dozen years ago."
Satellite photographic data is being studied to attempt to pinpoint a more precise time for the appearance of the Siberian hole.