Siberia used to be a quiet land of snow and permafrost. Now, it's the center of buzz in the scientific community, thanks to the mysterious holes that have been appearing in the region.
The first hole was found in the Yamal Peninsula, which is aptly referred to as "the end of the world." It was believed to have a diameter of between 50 and 100 meters but after scientists examined the scene; the hole is now estimated to have a diameter of around 30 meters. Senior Researcher Andrey Plekhanov at the State Scientific Centre of Arctic Research said it was difficult to accurately calculate the diameter of the hole because it has a more oval shape than circular.
The Yamal Peninsula takes the spotlight again as the second hole is found again at "the end of the world" but this time it's a smaller one measuring around 15 meters. It sits just a few hundred kilometers away from the first hole, which was close to a gas extraction plant. It was for this reason that the first hole was also believed to be caused by a gas explosion.
Witness accounts are inaccurate because they don't tell the same thing. Some say the second hole was smoking just after it opened and was followed by a bright flash. Some say that a celestial body had fallen on the spot.
Chief scientist Marina Leibman of the Earth Cryosphere Institute does not want to make any assumptions, saying the holes have to be studied first. "Each new funnel provides additional information for scientists. It is necessary to be able to predict their occurrence," she adds.
As for the third hole, it was found east of Yamal in the Taymyr Peninsula. Because it is located along a pasturing route, it was local herders who accidentally discovered it when the group almost fell into the hole. Promptly, pictures were taken of the third hole and sent to the Norilsk Taimyr Explorers' Club.
So what caused these holes?
Scientists have nothing completely definite just yet but they have shot down theories involving UFOs and explosions. "We can say for sure that under the influence of internal processes there was an ejection in the permafrost. I want to stress that was not an explosion, but an ejection, so there was no heat released as it happened," explained Plekhanov after an expedition to the first hole.
The best theory that holds at the moment is that the holes are extreme versions of collapsed pingos. A pingo is a massive chunk of ice underground that leave holes in the ground when it melts.