For weeks rumors swirled about what caused the mysterious craters that had been discovered in Siberia in a place called End of the World, which the place name, Yamal, means in English.
The region’s remoteness earned it its name, but the moniker is now figurative as well as literal: The holes were most likely created by bursts of methane gas generated by melting permafrost. The gas built up and then exploded out of the ground, Russian researchers theorized in the journal Nature, creating craters rimmed with dirt. The first was discovered by a helicopter pilot as he flew over the region, and the second was found several days later by reindeer herders.
In other words, the aliens could very well be us, though if so it might as well be an attack from hostile extraterrestrials bent on our destruction: The culprit is most likely rising temperatures and climate change, the scientists said.
The investigation is ongoing, and the evidence is far from conclusive, said Marina Leibman, a scientist who has studied permafrost for 40 years, to The New York Times.
“Leibman stressed that there were no indications that such events were more than the normal process of lake formation in the area and predicted that the hole she inspected would end up being a lake in coming years,” The New York Times’s Andrew Revkin reported. “She also stressed that she sees no signs of current or imminent warming producing a great destabilization of permafrost in the Arctic.”
Even continued warming, she told The New York Times, doesn’t necessarily translate to melting permafrost. Scientists have been turning their attention toward methane production stemming from melting permafrost in recent years in particular, and it has turned into something of a debate.
But sensors dropped down the first hole discovered measured 9.6 percent methane, which is much higher than the 0.000179 percent that is normally found in the atmosphere, Nature reported. There is also water at the bottom, about 300 feet down.
Meanwhile, scientists have streamed to the site and are studying it and two other formations that have been discovered in the same region. Be it the result of climate change, alien invasion or meteor strike, the craters are mysteriously unsettling, one scientist noted.
“Its rims are slowly melting and falling into the crater,” said Andrei Plekhanov, an archaeologist at the Scientific Centre of Arctic Studies in Salekhard, Russia, to Nature. “You can hear the ground falling, you can hear the water running, it’s rather spooky.”