A pioneering discovery by scientists in the Arctic.  Big holes in the sea floor

Oceanographers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California, USA have discovered 41 huge craters that have formed on the bottom of the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic. The research here ran from 2010 to 2019. The scientists used a remote-controlled underwater vehicle equipped with a specialized sonar. It turned out that the size of the openings was comparable to six-story apartment buildings. Its average depth is 6.7 m, and the largest is 29 m deep, 225 m long, and 95 m wide. The reason for its formation is most likely the thawing of permafrost under the sea floor. Heat carried by slowly moving groundwater systems contributes to the collapse of underwater permafrost. This is creating large holes in some areas and ice-filled mounds in others, said marine geologist Charlie Ball, MBARI’s chief researcher and head of the Beaufort Sea research team. Regardless of the size of the streams formed, scientists were also surprised by the rapid time in which they formed. She is only a few years old. Degradation of permafrost is a slow process. Usually we are talking about centimeters per year. However, in this case, we are dealing with more than just degradation. It’s also a qualitative change. This is an unexpected sight, summed up Evgeny Chuvilin, a scientist from the Russian Skoltech Institute, who summarized the discovery of the MBARI researchers. Experts do not exclude the impact of global warming on the formation of huge sinkholes on the sea floor, which is part of the Arctic Ocean. In their opinion, however, there is not enough evidence for this. “Because this is the first-ever study of underwater permafrost decay, we don’t yet have long-term data on seafloor temperature in this region. Powell said the data we have doesn’t show any warming trend in the 150-meter-deep water. Scientists now plan to focus on explaining why sewers form in such a short time.

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