Hydrogen degassing on Russian platform: Pluses and Minuses
Last Updated: Friday, 06 March 2015 11:26
Vladimir Larin, Nikolay Larin
Everything written in first article is based on work that was performed in 2005 and 2006. In the following years we continued our research and we can report to you, dear reader, that hydrogen degasification has not stopped, instead it has a clear tendency to grow. It expands onto new territories, and clearly becomes more intensive. Two years ago we were quite satisfied using instruments that were capable of measuring concentrations of up to 1000 ppm (up to 0.1%). Nowadays, in the spring of 2008, we rarely turn those on, because we encounter concentrations of 1% and higher. Our most “insensitive” instrument has a scale of up to 1.6% (up to 16,000 ppm); but this year even this device has been “drowning” in hydrogen in places. Those places include even our control points, where no such off the scale concentrations were previously seen.
Previously we distinguished between two types of craters: depression craters and explosion craters. Now we ought to add another type of structures to this list: the so called “ring depression structures”. These types of structures are particularly well defined in images taken from space: they look like light-colored rings and circles, located in exit points of hydrogen streams and jets. They are particularly prominent in the chernozem region. We performed manual drilling in order to establish the reason for this color change. We discovered that hydrogen degasification destroys the organic humus (the most valuable component of chernozem). The soil’s color fades to grey and even light-grey. Obviously this is accompanied by the reduction in the soil’s productivity. Additionally, we got the impression that hydrogen has a destructive effect on the living flora directly. Trees and undergrowth die in areas where hydrogen streams are exiting the ground; in places even the grass stops growing. But we will leave the investigation of this problem to the appropriate specialists – biologists.
Now we would like to follow the proverb “a picture is worth a thousand words”, and show a series of pictures that illustrate the scale of hydrogen degasification and the variety of structures associated with it. When we explain the pictures, we use the term “hydrogen bleaching”. As mentioned above, this is due to the destruction of humus in the chernozem. Humus is composed of long, complex organic structures (molecules). Their length is determined by chemical bonds between carbon atoms. But when these molecules encounter a hydrogen stream, hydrogen atoms incorporate themselves between the carbon atoms, causing the long molecules to break down. The smaller molecules turn out to be volatile gases and evaporate. Additionally, we found white sand under the soil layer in areas of hydrogen stream exits. The sands are white because of the appearance of white clay (kaolin). This is the result of the impact of hydrogen on the grains of feldspar - they get coated with a thin white film.
Fig. 1. A forest (on the left) and a chernozem field in the north-eastern suburb of Lipetsk.
The arrows point to the ring-shaped structures. The rings are 100 to 250 meters in diameter. The depression of soil in the rings is no more then 4-5 meters. In these structures there is no sign of a “clay crust” on the bottom. That is surprising, because just a few torrential rains is all that’s needed in order to wash away the dust from the rims and for the muddy water to accumulate at the bottom of the ring. When the water evaporates, you would expect to see a clay crust. Since there is no such crust, but the soil depression is present (and there is no drainage from the structure), we must conclude that the depression of soil in this spot took place very recently (“recently” on the scale of human, real time).
Fig. 2. We are looking south. Right in front of us is a ring structure (the top structure from picture 5). A “dark pole” on the field (a little bit to the right of the center) – is V. Larin; height – 175 cm. The next ring structure can be distinguished behind the pole (to the right and further). If one didn’t know how this area looks from space, one would never guess that active geological processes are taking place here; ring depression structures form “right in front of one’s eyes”, caused by hydrogen degasification from the depths of the planet.
Fig. 3. An example of a large ring structure in the early stage of its formation. The ring diameter is 2 km. (Northwest Volgograd region).
Fig. 4. The next stage of ring structure formation: the diameter of this one is 2.5 km. Soil depression in the center is particularly prominent here. As a result, a “swamp ulcer” has formed on the chernozem valley. (East Voronezh region).
Fig. 5. Further development of a ring structure. A swamp has spread over almost all of the ring structure. Meanwhile hydrogen continues to seep through beyond the borders of the initial ring (which is still visible), and it started “bleaching” the surroundings. (East Voronezh region).
Fig. 6. Here we look at an angle of 45o to the surface of the Earth. The size of the larger ring is 840х600m; the diameter of the smaller one is 300m. On this picture we can see well how hydrogen destroys forest plantations. The trees in this area have died just recently. The red arrow points to a spot where young trees of the plantation have been growing “carelessly” for a few years, until a “hydrogen beast” came and destroyed them. This obviously points to the expansion of hydrogen degasification; today it takes over newer and newer territories.
Depression structures, like the one on Figure 8, are wide-spread in the northern part of the Moscow region. There are even more places where they are about to appear. Thus we were curious to check - do those entities really originate from the depths of the planet? Maybe those are just ordinary swamps in which organic matter is decomposing thus causing the emission of hydrogen? This was a version that our inner skeptics whispered to us periodically; the ones that love to come out during times of forced boredom due to bad weather. In order to calm those pesky types, we called upon a talented geophysicist Andrei Gorbatikov who has developed a unique method for “microseismic sensing”, to collaborate with us. A latitudinal profile 1.5 km long (16 stations every 100 meters) revealed a vertical zone underneath the depression structure (a “pipe”, 350 meters in diameter), which goes down for more then 6 kilometers (see picture 13). Inside this “pipe”, a sharp uptake of microseismic waves takes place and the speed of sound passage is reduced. Conclusion: most likely, this area is riddled with pores and caverns, which are filled with liquid and gas.
Numerous hydrogen concentration measurements in this area revealed a massive anomaly, which goes beyond our profile. At the center of this anomaly (where the depression structure is located), hydrogen concentrations exceed 1.6%; on the periphery the concentrations drop (sporadically) to about 0.5%, which is also rather large.
Inside this depression structure the surface is flat; there is no tree debris (like on the rims), and it is dry – one can walk without rain boots. Among the soft moss, ledum plants, lingonberries and blueberries are growing. It is an attractive scenery. But if you find a field without trees and jump on it, you can see clearly how waves spread away from you across the surface. You get a feeling like you are jumping on a “soft blanket” and underneath you is some kind of “liquefied mass”. My young colleagues (Andrei and Larin Junior) also noticed this and what they came up with! One of them will jump, while the other will catch the “echo” coming from underground. They decided – Larin will jump (he is a geologist and an athlete), while Andrei, since he is the geophysicist, will be the “echo-catcher”. They played this game, and in the evening, at the end of the day of hard work, they were assuring me (Larin Senior) that the echo comes back after a quarter of a second. This means that underneath this “soft blanket” there is a pit filled with some “liquefied mass”, and this pit is about 180 meters deep. It is amazing how creative a person can be when he comes across something unusual, but has limited resources. Later on, we still measured the time it takes the reflected wave to come back using super modern apparatus, and the time turned out to be just 0.05 seconds less – meaning that the pit is about 150 meters deep.
While we were working on this structure, we listened to lots of complaints of the locals whose houses are located in close proximity to the depression structure (see picture 12). Mostly they complained about the “at times unbearable” hydrogen sulfide smell and about “dead bald spots” in their gardens on which absolutely nothing grows. Knowing the reason for those troubles we felt for them, but refrained from telling them that it will only get worse.
Our measurements show that this phenomenon appears in areas of hydrogen degasification. At first we thought that the reason for this is some characteristic of the local soil, which prevents the free exit of hydrogen and makes it accumulate in the form of bubbles. But in the spring of 2008 this phenomenon spread widely across the entire Moscow region.
In late April 2008 we reported the new data on Earth degasification, and demonstrated pictures of “mud volcanoes” at the Russian National Convention on Earth Degasification in Moscow. It turned out that many attendees of the convention saw the same thing on their way to the capital in other European parts of Russia; they saw it and were surprised because they could not recall seeing this phenomenon in previous years. Thus it is evident that hydrogen degasification can now be observed by anybody willing to do so, which points to the obvious expansion of the process. We - the authors are not pleased, because knowing the reason and having observed the dynamics of the process, we can imagine very well the rapid negative consequences.
Let’s Talk About the “Pluses”
Firstly, we have reasons to believe that “areal manifestations of hydrogen” feed from deeply situated, vertical, pipe-like zones – a kind of “hydrogen plumbing” (see picture 11). And it is likely that hydrogen can be harvested from these zones through boreholes, just like the usual natural gas. One must agree that this is a wonderful solution to many problems. We will be able to get hydrogen – an energy carrier with unique characteristics; and it will not have to be driven in pipes from far away because it flows right here, underneath our feet, literally. And if we learn how to intercept hydrogen streams deep underground (from the “hydrogen plumbing”), we will be able to significantly reduce the negative effects of hydrogen degasification on the top soil – on chernozem, on the plants and the Russian landscapes that are dear to our heart.
Fig. 11. Our understanding of the character of hydrogen degasification in the lithosphere. “Hydrogen plumbing” is shown in the upper portions of the crust (dark blue). On the insert (right), a borehole “opens” the upper part of a “hydrogen plumbing”.
When we look into the hydrogen future, we see the European part of Russia covered in boreholes that bring hydrogen to the surface. Near every borehole there are turbo generators that produce electricity, which is distributed throughout the nearby region. Boreholes with a small hydrogen debit are equipped with fuel cells that supply electricity to small towns and factories. Nearby are filling stations for hydrogen cars and other transport with engines based on fuel cells. There is no more need for long pipelines and high voltage transmission lines that are vulnerable to natural disasters and terrorist attacks. At the same time energy security is sharply increased, while environmental conditions are improved immeasurably.
Of course, this is a fantasy, but not science fiction, because there is no need to invent anything radically new in order to realize this. Everything is already available; all you need are streams of ready hydrogen. The streams are also already available; all you need is to learn how to bring them up to the surface. And that is not that hard of a problem. Today, we know where and how to look for this “hydrogen plumbing”.
A skeptic’s question: “how do you know that the concentrations will be industrial?”
Answer – of course we don't know, so far we only theorize, but we have some solid arguments for it. Firstly, hydrogen is a rather chemically active element, and if it reaches the surface, there must be more of it underground, because en route it gets used up for water formation and other chemical reactions. Secondly, the Sasovo voluminous thermobaric explosion probably cannot be explained without the explosion of an explosive gas cloud. This cloud formed as a result of the mixing of the endogenous hydrogen stream with atmospheric oxygen. Hydrogen only explodes if its volume exceeds 4% of the total volume of the mixture. Thus, the concentration in the hydrogen stream was (at least) several times higher. But, we can work with such concentrations.
Secondly, hydrogen is the main component (based on the number of atoms) of oil and natural gas. And in this regard, the problem of the origins of hydrocarbons is reduced to the problem of hydrogen source. There is more than enough free carbon in the Earth’s crust. And if hydrogen streams are passing through it, hydrocarbons must be generated. Simultaneously, a system of pores and caverns is forming not only in limestone, but also in silicate rocks – in granite and granite-gneisses. These pores and caverns are filled with the newly formed oil and thus rich deposits are created. We believe that the upper kilometers of the most “mature” hydrogen plumbing, may carry some uniquely large stocks of oil.
Thirdly, in our understanding, oil and gas form only when hydrogen degasification is taking place from within the deep zones of the planet. And if hydrogen degasification is taking place right now, then oil and gas are also being generated today and will continue to be generated tomorrow (we are referring to the time scale relevant to human civilization). Thus, the hydrocarbon fuel sources that we are using, most likely continue to be replenished today. It is often the case that an oil deposit is discovered, exploited, the estimated amount is completely used up, but oil continues to flow. In this regard, boreholes that had been exploited should be sealed off, in the hope that they will recover in the near future. I (Larin Senior) published this projection in 1992, but I didn’t have much hope to live long enough to see its confirmation on facts. However, in recent years some sensational reports began to appear about old, exploited deposits filling up again.
Thus, the expert's understanding on the complete exhaustion of oil and gas resources (ostensibly non-renewable) by the 40’s of this century appear to be like “scary stories for kids”. In light of the hydrogen degasification of Earth that we discovered, these resources are not only renewable but there is also a lot more of them then is believed to be; so energy hunger is not a threat in our nearest future.
Some countries, scared off by the prediction of an imminent exhaustion of hydrocarbon resources, store and don't exploit their oil fields, believing that that is the wise thing to do. However, we can revise this policy based on the hydrogen degasification that we discovered in the tectonically quiet regions and the fact of replenishing of exploited oil reserves. In all likelihood, it would be prudent to put these reserves at least in a «soft» mode of exploitation, in order to see what happens.
- First. Let us review the reasons and the mechanism of the Sasovo explosion: it occurred as a result of a hydrogen stream bursting to the surface; it mixed with the atmospheric oxygen, a cloud of “explosive gas” formed, and as a result a thermobaric explosion happened, equal in magnitude to an explosion of 30-50 tons of TNT. Two years ago we thought that this was a rare occurrence (exceptional and unlikely). But now, when we see the extent of hydrogen degasification, when our instruments, more and more, show readings off the scale, thus indicating that hydrogen concentration at the depth of just one meter is measured in percents (an “explosive gas” – is 4% and higher) – now we have a completely different estimation on the likelihood of events of this kind. Now we have to admit that thermobaric explosions, like the Sasovo one, may become an ordinary event in the near future. Moreover, these future explosions may be much more powerful - tens and hundreds of times more powerful, which is comparable with tactical nuclear weapons. Now imagine, what would happen if such an explosion happened in a densely populated region, or above a mega polis?
- Second. Today, in many places, the measured hydrogen concentration reaches 1.5-1.7%. However, when we take a sample of the subsoil gas, we cannot discount the mixing in of the atmospheric air, which is practically devoid of hydrogen. When we take this dilution into account, the real hydrogen concentration in the subsoil air could be reaching 2.5-3%. Technologists are very familiar with a phenomenon of catastrophically brittle metals, which occurs when metals are exposed to such a gaseous mixture for prolonged periods of time (months). As a result, underground metal structures and communications can become so fragile that they will crumble from their own weight of their engineering facilities, or at the movement of the soil, even a very minor one. So far, during the design and construction of facilities, the destruction of which could have catastrophic consequences, the possibility of hydrogen embrittlement of metals is not taken into account. However, hydrogen degasification has been detected, it tends to increase (in terms of areas affected), and this factor must be taken into account.
- Third. According to the Moscow geo-ecologists (who do not yet have the data about the hydrogen streams), 15% of the city territory is located in zones that are at risk for karst failures; collapses in these areas can occur at any time. Specialists know about it, they talk and warn, but they have not been particularly active in forcing the authorities to take appropriate measures. Apparently, a calming factor here is the prevailing view that karst cavities “take their time” in forming. But in our scenario, when hydrogen is “at work” (and it can “work” quickly), this threat must be taken with high priority.
If we could have our way, we would halt the construction of multistory buildings right now (even before clarifying the situation deep underneath the mega polis). They have too big of an impact on the underlying horizons. And if there are hydrogen streams in the city limits (and there are), able to produce water (“warm” and chemically aggressive water), this water, first of all, will erode the rock in tension, i.e. it will erode the rock underneath the foundations of skyscrapers. And there is no need to blame the high-rise buildings from the Stalin era, which have been standing for half a century. First, they were built differently; and second – hydrogen degasification has likely been gaining momentum over time. And now the mass media are full of reports about ground collapses in Moscow. It seems that this hasn’t been the case before.
Dear readers – regrettably, all what was said above is not a leisurely fiction; regrettably, all what was said – is the reality, it is all based on real facts. Delaying the initiation of extensive studies of the problem may be a “death sentence”, in a literal sense. However, if we hurry, we can still turn hydrogen degasification to our favor; we can save what can be saved, and we can save ourselves from the coming scourge.
P.S. When first acquainted with our data, many people ask – “Why such a large scale phenomenon is only now being discovered? Was it not happening 25-30 years ago?”
Of course it was happening; 30 years ago degasification was happening, albeit maybe not as intensively as it is now. The ring depression structures were in existence too, but there were fewer of them; as there was less “hydrogen bleaching” of chernozem soils. But, the reason is not lack of evidence, it is something different. Within the prevailing perceptions (of the composition and structure of the planet) there should not be hydrogen degasification on the ancient platform. And who is going to look for something which (it terms of the widely accepted “common sense”) – cannot be in principle in the first place? That’s why nobody looked. But we (the authors of this text) have been working for a long time within a new global geological concept, according to which there must be degasification of deep source hydrogen. As soon as hydrogen analyzers suitable for field work became available, we purchased them and went to look for hydrogen streams on the Russian plains. We found them right away, but we must admit – at first we did not even suspect, what would be the real extent of this phenomenon.
Translation from Russian by Olga Trubina