"Every year we come back to these domes and anxiously expected, that one of them has already turned into a crater similar to those found in other regions of the Barents sea. These structures, which we call "frosty hills", are the last traces of the ice age. All that keeps them from the explosion - just a large sea depth in this place than in the vicinity of the craters", - said the employee of the Arctic University of Norway in tromsø Pavel Serov.
Craters found by Russian and Western geologists in the last century, represent a funnel with a diameter of several hundred meters and a depth of tens of meters. The craters were formed approximately 12 thousand years ago due to the accumulation of frozen methane in the surface layers of soil, which crushed a two-kilometer layer of ice.
When the ice retreated, the reserves of methane in the lower layers of the soil began to melt quickly, which led to a "swelling" of the soil, occurrence of huge hills and their subsequent explosion. As a result, in the atmosphere and oceans Earth has got a huge amount of methane, which could accelerate the retreat of the ice and put an end to the era of glaciation.
Serov and his colleagues found that this process has not yet ended and the Barents sea can expect, and other explosions "methane mounds". To such conclusion scientists came by studying the bottom of the Arctic near Bear island, where was found the ancient craters, and the traces of their explosions.
Team Serov found some giant domes on the sea floor, methane content over which was unusually high. Observations have shown that the gas slowly seeps through the ground through cracks in the soil and near-surface layers of bottom contain large amounts of frozen methane.
"Methane hydrates are stable at low temperatures and high pressures. The pressure exerted 390-meter layer of water on the bottom of the sea at this point, is enough to keep them from destruction. On the other hand, the gas leaving these hillocks, and today they are one of the most active sources of methane on the bottom of the Arctic. Gas "tails" of some of them had almost reached the water surface," - said Serov.
Methane deposits are on the verge of stability, and they long ago would have exploded, like a neighboring craters, if the sea depth at this point was less than 20 m. Further warming of the ocean can disrupt this balance and lead to an explosion of "frosty hills", and the consequences of the explosion, scientists do not undertake to predict.
On the other hand, this danger is most threatening to other reserves of methane hydrates that occur within permafrost in the Northern coast of Russia, Norway and Canada. Here the temperature of the soil and water varies much stronger, and the catastrophe may happen much earlier than at the bottom of the Barents sea, the scientists conclude.
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