Russian scientists have determined that a massive crater discovered in a remote part of Siberia was probably caused by thawing permafrost. The crater is in the Yamal Peninsula, which means “end of the world.” It caught hold of the media spotlight in mid-July when it was spotted by oil and gas workers flying over the area. At roughly 200 feet wide and seemingly bottomless, speculation abounded about the cause with the Siberian Timesreporting that, “theories range from meteorites, stray missiles, a man-made prank, and aliens, to an explosive cocktail of methane or shale gas suddenly exploding.”
Since this first discovery, two other smaller craters have been spotted in the surrounding regions, fueling even more armchair conjecture. Russian scientists sent to the site are now providing first-hand data showing that unusually high concentrations of methane of up to 9.6 percent were present at the bottom of the first large crater shortly after it was discovered on July 16. Andrei Plekhanov, an archaeologist at the Scientific Centre of Arctic Studies in Salekhard, Russia, who led an expedition to the crater, told The Journal Nature that air normally contains just 0.000179 percent methane.