Doorway To The Underworld: Siberian Crater Reveals Ancient Forests

While a lot of the permafrost in Siberia is melting at this time and exposing holes underneath it in some places, now a massive crater known as the Doorway to the Underworld is becoming so large that ancient forests and other previously buried items are suddenly appearing. This Doorway to the Underworld in Siberia is now also providing scientists with climate records that date back 200,000 years.

The official name for the Doorway to the Underworld is the Batagaika Crater, and it is classified as a thermokarst or a megaslump. The crater is found 410 miles away from Yakutsk, the capital city of the region. The Siberian crater is the largest of its type of crater in the world and continues to grow. Currently, it measures 282 feet deep and 0.6 miles in length, according to Science Alert.

The Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany’s Frank Gunther has said that even just the headwall of the crater itself grew at an average rate of around 33 feet per year over the decade that it was observed. However, during warmer seasons it grew at a more alarming rate of 98 feet each year.

Amboy Crater National Natural Landmark on February 29, 2008.
Amboy Crater National Natural Landmark on February 29, 2008. Another crater in Siberia, known as the Doorway to the Underworld, has grown enough to reveal an ancient forest beneath it. [Image by David McNew/Getty Images]

Gunther’s research team believe that the side wall of this Doorway to the Underworld may end up stretching to a valley that is nearby as temperatures continue to rise.

“On average over many years, we have seen that there’s not so much acceleration or deceleration of these rates, it’s continuously growing. And continuous growth means that the crater gets deeper and deeper every year.”

This Siberian crater began its existence in the 1960s after a forest had been cleared close to it. Once the forest had been removed, and there was no longer any shade from the trees to cool down the land, it warmed up the permafrost enough that it began to melt and the ground beneath it caved in and collapsed.

While this Doorway to the Underworld is highly dangerous for anyone who accidentally stumbles upon it, scientists are also concerned with the fact that as the crater continues to grow the carbon stores which have been tucked away for thousands of years will end up being exposed.

“Global estimations of carbon stored in permafrost is the same amount as what’s in the atmosphere. This is what we call positive feedback. Warming accelerates warming, and these features may develop in other places.”

On the plus side, the fact that the Batagaika Crater is so exposed now means that scientists will be able to use 200,000 years worth of climate data. But other things are also to be found in this deep crater, including the remains of a frozen mammoth, a musk ox, a 4,400 year-old-horse, pollen samples and even an ancient forest.

A stuffed woolly mammoth discovered in Siberia. Date unknown.
A stuffed woolly mammoth discovered in Siberia. Date unknown. [Image by Hulton Archive/Getty Images]

A study that was published in February in The Journal Quaternary Research, which was led by the University of Sussex’s Julian Murton, asserts that exposed sediment could actually be very useful to researchers. This sediment will allow scientists to have a much greater understanding of climate change in Siberia. This is especially helpful as Siberia is one location which we don’t currently have a lot of data for when it comes to climate history over the past 200,000 years.

“The Batagaika site contains a remarkably thick sequence of permafrost deposits, which include two wood-rich layers interpreted as forest beds that indicate past climates about as warm or warmer than today’s climate. The upper forest bed overlies an old land surface that was eroded, probably when permafrost thawed in a past episode of climate warming.”

The age of the sediment that has been exposed around the Siberian crater is not known at this time, but with more time and research scientists will be able to better understand this Doorway to the Underworld and the ancient forest it holds.

[Featured Image by David McNew/Getty Images]