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Planet Earth

Grassy Trampolines Are Appearing in Siberia's Tundra

D-briefBy Nathaniel ScharpingJuly 22, 2016 11:16 PM

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There's trouble brewing in Siberia. Or, should we say, bubbling. As the Siberian Timesreports, researchers working on a remote island off the coast of Siberia stumbled upon an unusual sight: In some places, the normally solid tundra is turning into a grassy trampoline. The cause of the wobbly patches is likely due to climate change.

Permafrost Unleashed

Much of the ground in Siberia is permafrost — soil that remains frozen year-round, except for a small layer on the surface. This also freezes natural processes that occur in soil, such as plant growth and decomposition. But when the frozen dirt thaws, carbon that was locked inside starts to bubble to the surface. It is estimated that around 1,400 gigatons of carbon lies dormant in permafrost at the moment — more carbon than is currently available in the atmosphere. If you listen closely to the video, you can actually hear the trapped gases whoosh out when the ground is punctured by a boot. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=06Xc3LtZRWo[/embed] The bouncy grass in the video is a symptom of the unprecedented thawing events occurring north of the Arctic Circle. As the permafrost thaws, as is already happening, massive amounts of carbon dioxide and methane will be released, which could have negative repercussions for the climate.

Subterranean Time Bomb

The accumulating gases will begin to build up beneath the surface, sometimes gathering in the hollow spaces left by melting ice under the ground. If the melting happens fast enough and in an area with enough trapped carbon, these subterranean methane pools can turn into pressure cookers. In the right conditions, they can even explode, as likely happened in 2014 on nearby Yamal Peninsula. A massive crater there is thought to be the result of trapped gases bursting through the dirt. According to the Siberian Times, the explosions from such events have been heard as far as 60 miles away, and some villagers reported seeing a glow in the sky. The methane trampolines don't appear to be nearly as volatile, but researchers who happened upon this particular pocket say that they have discovered around 15 other such sites.

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