Darvaza Gas Crater – the Natural Wonder of the Karakum
There are some places on Earth that are a little scary, a little haunted, and a little outright hellish. The Darvaza gas crater, also called “The Door to Hell” or “The Gates of Hell” by locals, most certainly falls into the latter category—and its mysterious burning flames are just the beginning.
The Darvaza Gas Crater, which is located in central Turkmenistan’s Karakum Desert (just over 150 miles from the country’s capital), is a centre of attraction for hundreds of tourists each year. It also draws surrounding desert animals, with reports of thousands of local spiders diving into the pit, drawn to their deaths by the blinding flames.
So, how did this raging inferno end up in the middle of Turkmenistan’s desert? A party of Soviet geologists went to the Karakum in search of oil fields in 1971, when the republic was still a part of the Soviet Union. They discovered what they believed to be a large oil field and started drilling. Unfortunately for the scientists, they were drilling on top of a cavernous pocket of natural gas that couldn’t accommodate their equipment’s weight. The site collapsed, taking their equipment with it—and the event caused the desert’s crumbly sedimentary rock to crumble in other places as well, causing a domino effect that culminated in many open craters by the end of it all.
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The biggest of these craters is 230 feet in diameter and 65 feet deep. Although no one was injured in the collapse, scientists were soon confronted with a new problem: natural gas escaping from the crater. Natural gas is mainly made up of methane, which, while not poisonous, displaces oxygen and makes breathing difficult. This was a problem not so much for the scientists as it was for the animals that live in the Karakum Desert—shortly after the collapse, animals roaming the region started to die. The flammability of the escaping methane posed a threat as well—just 5% methane in the air can cause an explosion.
As a result, the scientists decided to set fire to the crater in the hopes of destroying all of the volatile natural gas within a few weeks.
This isn’t as strange as it sounds; this is a normal phenomenon when natural gas can’t be captured in oil and natural gas exploration operations. Unlike oil, which can be held in tanks forever after drilling, natural gas must be extracted right away. If there is a surplus of natural gas that cannot be piped to a processing plant, drillers will also burn it to get rid of it. Flaring is a wasteful practise that wastes nearly a million dollars worth of natural gas every day in North Dakota alone.
But, unlike drillers in North Dakota or elsewhere, Turkmen scientists were not working with a known volume of natural gas—scientists are still unsure how much natural gas is feeding the burning crater—so what was expected to be a few-week burn has turned into a nearly 50-year desert bonfire.
Concerned that the fire in the Darvaza Gas Crater would jeopardise Turkmenistan’s ability to develop nearby gas fields, President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov directed local authorities to devise a plan to fill the crater in after visiting it in 2010. However, no action has been taken, and the crater continues to burn, drawing unsuspecting animals, birds and foreign visitors.
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George Kourounis became the first person to set foot at the bottom of Darvaza Gas Crater.
In November 2013, adventurer and storm chaser George Kourounis set out on an expedition sponsored by Kensington Tours and partially funded by National Geographic to be the first to explore the depths of Darvaza Gas Crater.
He gathered soil samples at the bottom, hoping to learn whether life would live in such harsh conditions—and, if so, if life could survive similar conditions elsewhere in the universe.
It is believed to have been deliberately set on fire by Soviet geologists to prevent the spread of methane gas, and it has been burning continuously since 1971, although this has been disputed.
The early years of The Darvaza Gas Crater are unknown: local geologists believe the fall into a crater occurred in the 1960s, but the gases were not ignited until the 1980s. However, neither the Soviet nor Turkmen versions of events have been documented.
Although the Darvaza gas crater has piqued public interest as a mystery and has been dubbed the “Gates of Hell,” it is nothing more than a geological phenomenon with no geological or geographical significance. The ground was able to sink in and create a natural depression due to a superficial gas pocket. This allows natural gas that is slowly escaping from a vast deeper natural gas field to collect and burn without being extinguished by the wind and quickly diluted.
The desert wind quickly disperses the gas from similar, smaller gas leaks in the field. Other areas of the world have “burning ground” sites where natural gas escaping from the ground has been ignited.
So what you think about this Darvaza gas Crater, or the Gates Of Hell ? Do comment and let us know.