Siberia's sinkholes: What they may mean for climate

Scientists are exploring the whats and what-ifs involving natural methane releases from newly discovered unusual sink holes in remote areas of the Siberian arctic.

They’re unclear, in part, about whether the sink holes are in fact “new” or merely newly discovered. They’re trying to come to grips also with the potential range of high- and low-end impacts on global climate change given the strength of methane as a climate pollutant. And they point to remaining uncertainties about the frequency and intensity of the sinkholes going forward in a warming climate.

Independent videographer Peter Sinclair, in his current exclusive video for Yale Climate Connections, interviews several of the scientists engaged in this research to try to develop a more thorough understanding of these mysterious sinkholes.

Katey Walter Anthony, of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks (UAF), sheds light on the sinkholes, saying the long-buried methane “has found a conduit or a chimney for escape” from beneath the permafrost. Scientist Vladimir Romanovsky, also with UAF, says the permafrost long has served as something of a “lid … now not so strong as it was in the past.”

Walter Anthony says the “methane megaseeps are a wildcard,” and Scott Dallimore of the Geological Society of Canada cautions that “the pace of escape is likely to accelerate” as a result of the warming of the climate. Walter Anthony emphasizes that not all permafrost needs to melt before concerns rise, and she cautions of permafrost’s being “like Swiss cheese, with a lot of holes going through it.”

Peter Sinclair

Peter Sinclair is a Michigan-based videographer, specializing in climate change and renewable energy issues. He has created hundreds of educational videos correcting climate science misinformation,...