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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Pingo! Anthony Watts tells Russian scientists they "don't know nuffin'" about Yamal

Sou | 3:47 AM Go to the first of 2 comments. Add a comment

Remember how Anthony Watts went to the Daily Mail to find out about a new hole in the ground in Yamal? Anyway, although Anthony hasn't looked at the hole in Yamal at all, he decided he knows all about it, and wrote this (my bold italics):
A couple of days ago I posted this story about the odd hole in the ground that appeared in Yamal, which was immediately blamed on ‘global warming’ by some fool who hadn’t looked at it closely:
Anna Kurchatova from the Sub-Arctic Scientific Research Centre, thinks the crater was formed by a mixture of water, salt and gas igniting an underground explosion, a result of global warming.

Some fool who hadn't looked at it closely

Anyway, Anthony is quite some fool and we know he hasn't looked at it closely.  For one thing, he didn't ask his readers to pay for a trip to Yamal. Nevertheless he's got all the answers. First of all, he knows for certain sure that it cannot have been caused by global warming. After all, ice doesn't melt in the heat, does it. Except in summer time when it is "a regular and expected occurrence".  Anthony wrote:
The most plausible explanation so far is a collapsed “pingo”, and these new pictures and video from the Siberian Times suggest it probably is. The pictures below from Parks Canada show similar structures in the process of collapse. For those that want to blame the collapse on “global warming” you might also note it is summer in Yamal, and melting ice is a regular and expected occurrence.

As far as I know, Anthony Watts is the only person to come up with that "plausible explanation". It wasn't an explanation touted in the Siberian Times article, with the photos and video that Anthony "looked at closely".  Or if so, it wasn't mentioned explicitly. Anthony only looked at the photos in a newspaper article (and ignored the text - too many words, pictures are easier), and a video. Despite the fact that he hasn't "looked at it closely" he knows all about pingos.

Not much about pingos, sorry

Well I know nothing about pingos at all, except what I've read on the internet in the last few minutes. I did find out that they are also referred to as hydrolaccoliths and cryolaccoliths and frost mounds. In Russia they are known as bulgunniakh and are found in Siberia. I expect that's how a permafrost expert like Anna Kurchatova would refer to them.

Anthony helpfully pointed to this webpage of Parks Canada. The description of pingos doesn't sound anything like the hole in Yamal. But I expect Anthony knows what he's talking about. This is a bit of what Parks Canada is talking about:
Two pingos, Ibyuk and Split, dominate the skyline. Reaching the height of a 16 storey office tower (49 meters/160 feet), Ibyuk is the tallest pingo in Canada and the second tallest in the world. Ibyuk Pingo is growing at a rate of approximately two centimeters (3/4 inch) per year and is at least 1,000 years old. Other pingos in the landmark range in height from 5 - 36 meters (16-120 feet) and represent various stages of pingo development.

This page also describes just how quickly a pingo can grow. By that account they add height at the rate of 1-2 centimeters (about a half-inch) per year. It describes "one of the fastest growing pingos" which has been "adding around 2 centimeters (0.79 inches) a year to its current 49 m (161 ft) height on a 300 m (984 ft) wide base." That's consistent with the Parks Canada account.

Well we've got news for Canada. Their Ibyuk Pingo used to be one of the fastest growing pingos. That was until Anthony Watts discovered this new one in Yamal, which was created probably overnight. That's fast! Maybe when pingos are born they happen very quickly.

This permafrost glossary, prepared by the Permafrost Subcommittee of the National Research Council, Canada, has some information on pingos of different types, with pictures too.

Now Anthony mightn't have had the opportunity to examine the Yamal hole up close or in person but he was able to look at newspaper photos and a video from a helicopter after all. Here's the video:

Yamal warming

Remember how Anthony is convinced that ice doesn't melt with global warming, but it is a regular and expected occurrence in the Yamal summertime? Tim Osborn, Tom Melvin and Keith Briffa from the Climatic Research Unit, UEA have been looking at what has been happening to the temperature in Yamal over the past couple of thousand years. You can read about it at or in their open access paper from last year. It looks as if it's been getting a bit warmer in the past few decades, particularly the last few years. But don't let me try to convince you that the effect is global. We're only talking about Yamal, after all.

Yamal gas fields

Yamal is now being mined for its vast deposits of liquified natural gas. Here's a description of one of the projects. Which brings us back to the report from the Siberian Times, which republished the speculation of permafrost scientist, Anna Kurchatova from Sub-Arctic Scientific Research Centre (Tyumen State Oil and Gas University), that the crater may have been formed: a water, salt and gas mixture igniting an underground explosion, the result of global warming. She postulates that gas accumulated in ice mixed with sand beneath the surface, and that this was mixed with salt - some 10,000 years ago this area was a sea.
Global warming, causing an 'alarming' melt in the permafrost, released gas causing an effect like the popping of a Champagne bottle cork, she suggests.

What the scientists say

Apart from repeating that speculation, the scientists reported by the Siberian Times in this latest article were much more reticent than pingo expert Anthony Watts. This is some of what the paper reported:
The best theory for now is that the crater was formed by internal - not external - forces. 
'For now we can say for sure that under the influence of internal processes there was an ejection in the permafrost. I want to stress that it was not an explosion, but an ejection, so there was no heat released as it happened'.
Earlier scientists were sure there was burning visible on the sides of the crater. 
'I also want to recall a theory that our scientists worked on in the 1980s - it has been left and then forgotten for a number of years. 
'The theory was that the number of Yamal lakes formed because of exactly such natural process happening in the permafrost. 
'Such kind of processes were taking place about 8,000 years ago. Perhaps they are repeating nowadays. If this theory is confirmed, we can say that we have witnessed a unique natural process that formed the unusual landscape of Yamal peninsula. 
The crater is different from others on Yamal.
'There is nothing mysterious here, it is simply Mother Nature's law with its internal pressure and changes in temperatures', Andrey Plekhanov said.
Marina Leibman, Senior Researcher at the Earth's Cryosphere Institute of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said: 'About the future of the crater - its walls are constantly thawing, water is gathering up and I suspect that it gets frozen at the bottom of the crater. If the water stream intensifies - for example because of the hot second part of July - then it won't have enough time to freeze. This will likely lead to a formation of a new lake.'
Vladimir Pushkarev, Director of the Russian State Scientific Center of the Arctic Research, 'It is an interesting phenomenon, there is every sense in continuing scientific work on it and right now we are discussing the best ways of exploring the site.'

Thing is, I couldn't find what was being referred to in regard to the processes forming some Yamal lakes around 8,000 years ago. I know Yamal lakes today are described in many places as thermokarst lakes, which are formed in depressions when permafrost melts. There's a lot more to it than that, as this book explains. I also know that around 8,000 years ago there was what is known as the Holocene climatic optimum. Globally it got a bit warm. Around the north pole it got quite warm by all accounts. However since Anthony told us that global warming couldn't have cause this, the scientists must be wrong - again.

Let's wait for the results

Now before you jump on me for going all Dunning-Kruger myself, I'm not discounting anything as the cause - well, maybe some things.  I'll wait for the results of the scientists who are there onsite making observations. Whatever the cause of the hole, whether it's a pingo or slipping ice or exploding gas, no doubt Anthony Watts will keep us informed. If he fails to do so, you can always check the Siberian Times. Or check for the results of the scientists mentioned, like Vladimir Pushkarev, Andrey Plekhanov,  Marina Leibman, and Anna Kurchatova. I'd recommend not following the lead of WUWT, which gets its science from Daily Mail. That is, unless you're looking for explanations like UFO landings.

One thing I can say is that I learn a lot from WUWT. I learnt some about pingos and bulgunniakh, and that led me to thermokarst lakes (including this interesting new article about their cooling effect) and I picked up more about the Yamal liquified gas fields and a lot more besides, for which there wasn't room to cover in this article.

K.R. Briffa, T.M. Melvin, T.J. Osborn, R.M. Hantemirov, A.V. Kirdyanov, V.S. Mazepa, S.G. Shiyatov, and J. Esper, "Reassessing the evidence for tree-growth and inferred temperature change during the Common Era in Yamalia, northwest Siberia", Quaternary Science Reviews, vol. 72, pp. 83-107, 2013.


  1. "Anyway, Anthony is quite some fool and we know he hasn't looked at it closely. For one thing, he didn't ask his readers to pay for a trip to Yamal."


  2. You might want to rephrase Yamal's "vast deposits of liquefied natural gas."
    Siberia is not THAT cold.
    The gas is compressed to form LNG above ground.

    "The field development plan provides for...200 wells... [and] construction of a gas gathering pipeline system, gas treatment facilities and a liquefaction plant." from Novatek


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