In DepthClimate Change

Siberia's ‘gateway to the underworld’ hit by heat wave

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Science  07 Aug 2020:
Vol. 369, Issue 6504, pp. 612-613
DOI: 10.1126/science.369.6504.612

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Summary

Known to locals as the "gateway to the underworld," the Batagay megaslump in Siberia is the largest thaw slump on the planet. Once just a gully on a slope logged in the 1960s, the scar has expanded year by year, as the permafrost thaws and meltwater carries off the sediment. Now more than 900 meters wide, it epitomizes the vulnerability of permafrost in the Arctic, where temperatures have shot up twice as fast as the global average over the past 30 years. But it is also a time capsule that is seducing scientists with its snapshots of ancient climates and ecosystems. Dates from ice and soil gathered at Batagay show it holds the oldest exposed permafrost in Eurasia, spanning the past 650,000 years. That record could reveal how permafrost and surface vegetation responded to past warm climates.

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