Giant Craters Appearing on Arctic Seafloor
- March, 15, 2022 - 17:46
- Science news
TEHRAN (Tasnim) – Enormous craters measuring 90 feet in depth have appeared on the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean.
The craters, scientists say, are forming as a result of thawing submerged permafrost on the edge of the Beaufort Sea in northern Canada, with retreating glaciers from the last ice age driving the change.
Permafrost is ground that is permanently frozen—in some cases for hundreds of thousands of years. In the Arctic, which is warming faster than any other region of Earth, permafrost is thawing, causing the ground to become unstable.
A s the soil thaws, organic matter trapped within starts to break down, causing the release of methane and other greenhouse gasses. As these gasses are released, pressure builds.
On land, the impact is clear. In Siberia, there is footage showing the land wobbling "like jelly" beneath people's feet.
Eventually, when the pressure reaches a tipping point, the land explodes, leaving massive craters behind. One person who witnessed this happening described it as being "as if the earth was breathing."
What happens when permafrost on the bottom of the sea thaws is less clear, however.
In 2019, scientists in Siberia discovered a patch of ocean where the sea was "boiling" with methane, with concentrations of the gas around seven times higher than the global average.
Two years earlier, a different team of researchers found evidence of huge craters—some over 3,000 feet wide—on the floor of the Barents Sea, north of Norway and Russia. They said these craters had formed as a result of methane explosions that took place thousands of years earlier.
To better understand what impact thawing permafrost is having beneath the ocean, researchers led by Charles K. Paull, a senior scientist at California's Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, used advanced mapping technology to observe changes to the seafloor over the course of a decade.
They conducted surveys in the Beaufort Sea between 2010 and 2019 to map topographical changes resulting from thawing permafrost.
Findings showed that at depths between around 400 and 500 feet, huge depressions with steep sides were forming. The largest was 90 feet deep. Their findings are published in scientific journal PNAS.
Paull said they were shocked at their findings, with the craters far larger than they had anticipated.