The ongoing melting of permafrost in Siberia has brought with it some very strange events — including the creation of massive methane blowout craters. In addition to the — sometimes catastrophically violent — release of methane from the previously frozen tundra, the melting has also been accompanied by the return of microbial illnesses that haven’t been present in the region for quite some time.
Of particular note are the recent outbreaks of anthrax in the remote Yamal Peninsula, after a more than 75-year-long absence from the region. One such outbreak last August involved the death of a boy, along with 20 other infections.
That outbreak followed closely after a heatwave in the region that saw temperatures climb to more than 30° Celsius — high enough to melt permafrost.
The Guardian provides more: “Long dormant spores of the highly infectious anthrax bacteria frozen in the carcass of an infected reindeer rejuvenated themselves and infected herds of reindeer and eventually local people.
“More recently, a huge explosion was heard in June in the Yamal Peninsula. Reindeer herders camped nearby saw flames shooting up with pillars of smoke and found a large crater left in the ground. Melting permafrost was again suspected, thawing out dead vegetation and erupting in a blowout of highly flammable methane gas.
“Over the past three years, 14 other giant craters have been found in the region, some of them truly massive – the first one discovered was around 50m (160ft) wide and about 70m (230ft) deep, with steep sides and debris spread all around.
“There have also been cases of the ground trembling in Siberia as bubbles of methane trapped below the surface set the ground wobbling like an airbed. Even more dramatic, setting fire to methane released from frozen lakes in both Siberia and Alaska causes some impressive flames to erupt.”
These are all good examples of just how weird and non-intuitive much of what will be happening over the coming decades and centuries as a result of climate change will seem.
While rising temperatures and sea levels are pretty easy to imagine (in some ways, anyway), the wider effects relating to disappearing ice sheets — the accompanying increase in volcanic activity and earthquakes, rapid isostatic rebound far from the melting ice sheets themselves, changes in ocean salinity that greatly increase the prevalence of some parasites, etc. — as well as changes to humidity levels, wind and rainfall patterns, storm formation, etc., are as of right now probably incomprehensible to most people.
The world is going to be getting weirder and weirder by the year, for the rest of your life. Massive explosions from underground that leave huge pits in the earth, and the release of long dormant microbial life and toxins from frozen soil, are just the start of things.
Then there are also the sociopolitical and economic ramifications.