Bely Island in north Russia is turning heads as underground methane bubbles are surfacing, making the soil wobble and jiggle like jello raising further concerns about the Greenhouse Gas Time Bomb.
The phenomenon in Russia “is a consequence of climate change,” says an online science journal. The Russian tundra is in a state of permafrost, where the deeper layers of soil, rock, and sediments are frozen. Due to global warming, the permafrost is thawing, which leads to a release of gas trapped in the ground.
Researchers Aleksander Sokolov from the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) and Dorothee Ehrich from the University of Tromso in Norway led a scientific expedition on Bely Island and discovered 15 jiggly patches that gave concern.
The patches of earth are still grass-covered and the team believes it may be related to a 20-day-long abnormal heat wave.
The phenomenon in Russia has been linked to the spontaneously forming craters in the nearby Yamal Peninsula (a phenomenon that occurs when natural gas fills the cavity left by thawing ice and then erupts).
Although methane is the culprit of the bubbling in Russia, the researchers do not think it is from ancient gas deposits like the craters. “I do not think that the methane was from ancient geological times, as in the gas field in Sabetta [in the Yamal peninsula]. We also worked in Sabetta in the last couple of years, but we did not find bubbles like in Bely Island,” Dr Sokolov said in an interview. “I think that this is the activity of bacteria/former faunas from [the soil], not much deeper than a couple of meters.”
The team is currently carrying out new explorations on the island to better understand these bubbles and their potential dangers.
Thus far, although they release carbon dioxide and methane, the bubbles do not appear to pose any immediate danger to animals or people.
They might, however, give some a fright.
“The only thing could be, if a reindeer stepped on such a bubble, that could be a rather strong sound, and the animal could be afraid of it for several seconds,” joked Dr Sokolov.
The team hopes to locate the depth from which the methane is releasing as well as estimating if the phenomenon could have an impact on global warming.
In exploring the island and deciphering some of these mysteries, they also hope to find out what makes Bely Island so special.
“The ‘great’ thing with our observation is that we have walked many hundreds of kilometers in tundra before and never found such things!” Dr Sokolov added.