Vladimir Larin, Nikolay Larin
Over the last 15 years the formation of numerous craters has been discovered in the central area of European Russia. Among them two types were singled out: blast type and collapse type.
Some interesting processes occur simultaneously with the emergence of the blast craters. On April 12, 1991, 400 meters away from Sasovo (a town in south-east of Ryazan region) there was an explosion; its blast wave broke windows and doors of half of the town’s buildings. According to experts such an effect could be caused by explosion of at least several tens of tons of TNT. However, there was no trace of explosives. The diameter of crater №1 was 28 meters, the depth - 4 meters.
In June 1992 7 km northward of Sasovo another blast crater (№ 2) (diameter - 15 m, depth - 4 m) was found in the corn field, though nobody heard the explosion (when the seeds of corn were planted there was no crater yet). The blast character of the crater was determined due to the ring shaped ejection encircling it. In addition, according to eyewitnesses who saw the crater recently after its occurrence, there were huge clods of earth around.
We started to think that the formation of these craters is somehow connected with the process of hydrogen degassing of the planet. We also knew that compact hydrogen gas analyzers able to measure the content of free hydrogen in the gas mixture in a concentration of 1-10,000 ppm (parts per million - ppm, 10000 ppm = 1%) were invented in Russia.
We visited Sasovo craters in August 2005. We asked Vladimir Leonidovich Syvorotkin, the Doctor of Geological and Mineralogical Sciences to accompany us. He had all the necessary equipment and kindly agreed to introduce us to the method of hydrogenometry.
The measurements made by V.L. Syvorotkin in Sasovo area showed the presence of free hydrogen in the subsoil air. Unfortunately, by the time we visited crater №1 (August 2005) it had turned into a small lake, therefore it was impossible to take measurements inside the crater itself. However, the presence of hydrogen was detected both in the immediate vicinity of the crater and several hundred meters away from it. Crater №2 was intact and completely dry; the measurements made at its bottom showed that the concentration of hydrogen was double as high as that of the surrounding area.
Thus, now it is possible to estimate the approximate hydrogen content in the subsoil air, and it seems to be a very promising business. We purchased two hydrogen gas analyzers ВГ-2А and ВГ-2Б (the range of hydrogen concentration being measured is 1-50 ppm for the first analyzer and 10-1000 ppm for the second) and improved the process of the subsoil air collection. So in 2006 we made several expeditions to the central area of the Russian Platform (Lipetsk and Ryazan region).
We found the collapse crater № 3 on the black earth arable land in the north-eastern part of the Lipetsk region. Its diameter was 13 meters, depth - 4,5 meters. There were no ejections around it. This crater was found in spring of 2003. The drilling we conducted enabled us to discover lumps of fat black soil in the arkosic sands at a depth of 3 meters below the bottom of the crater. Those lumps of soil caved in from the surface, which clearly confirms the collapse nature of the crater.
The concentration of hydrogen at the bottom of the crater was zero. 50 meters away from the crater and further to the west the first hydrogen gas analyzer (the one that had greater sensitivity) began to display a concentration of several ppm, but no more than 5 ppm. However, at a distance of 120 m from the crater the device went off-scale. The second device showed a concentration of 100 ppm there. A detailed measurement of that area revealed the presence of a local hydrogen anomaly, which extended for 120 meters in the meridional direction having a width of 10-15 meters, with hydrogen concentrations up to 200-250 ppm.
About the properties of hydrogen
One of the distinguishing characteristics of hydrogen is its unique ability to diffuse in solids at a speed which is significantly (several times) higher than that of other gases. In this regard there is no reason to believe that this local anomaly is a buried one and has preserved from ancient geological times. We have probably discovered the outlet of a modern hydrogen stream.
Geological experience teaches us that if the endogenous phenomena are closely related in space and time (in this case – the collapse crater and the hydrogen stream), then it is most likely that they are also genetically connected, in other words they are the derivatives of the same process. This process is apparently the hydrogen degassing of the planet.
Hydrogen («hydrogen» - literally “giving birth to water”) is rather chemically active. There is quite a lot of free oxygen or weakly chemically bound in oxides and hydroxides of iron buried in the pores, cracks and micropores of the upper Earth crust layers. Making its way up to the surface the endogenous hydrogen stream certainly forms some water. And if the stream actually reaches the surface, you can be sure that it is much more powerful beneath; therefore we may assume that there are some endogenous processes going on and we, the ones who live on the surface, should take them into account.
First of all, the underlying fluid streams never consist of only hydrogen itself. There always are chlorine, sulfur, fluorine and other elements. This information is based on other regions where the degassing has been taking place for a long time. These elements are present in the water-hydrogen fluid in the form of various compounds, including the form of appropriate acids (HCl, HF, H2S). Thus at the depths of the first few kilometers the hydrogen stream forms acidified water, which, in addition, apparently has high temperature (due to the geothermal gradient and the exothermal chemical reactions). Such water erodes carbonates very quickly.
There are hundreds of meters of carbonates in the sedimentary crust of the Russian platform. It is traditionally believed that the formation of karst cavities in the crust is a slow process, because we typically associate it with the soakage of rain and snow waters into the depths; these waters are practically distilled and cold enough. Their ability to dissolve anything is very small. The discovery of a hydrogen stream (and a recent collapse crater nearby) makes us reconsider the traditional opinion on the fact. Hot acidified water which is formed near the hydrogen stream has the capacity to form karst cavities very quickly and thus provoke the appearance of depressions on the Earth’s surface(the word “quickly” refers not to the geological time, but to our fast human time). We will discuss the possible scale of this phenomenon below.
The Sasov explosion from the physical point of view
Now let’s revert to the blast crater near Sasovo. A lot of mystery surrounds it. The explosion took place in the night on April 12, 1991, at 1:34 am. However, four hours earlier (late at night on April 11), according to witnesses huge glowing spheres began floating around in the area of the explosion. Such a bright white sphere was seen above the railroad station. The sphere was seen by the railroad and depot workers, numerous passengers and the locomotive driver (who raised the alarm). The unusual phenomena were seen by the students of the Higher Civil Aviation School, the railway workers and the fishermen. An hour before the explosion a strange glow occurred above the future crater. Half an hour before the explosion, locals living in the outlaying areas of town, saw two bright-red spheres above the area of the future explosion. At the same time people heard an underground rumble and felt the earth tremble. The inhabitants of the nearby villages saw two bright-blue flashes that lit up the sky above the town right before the explosion.
The explosion was preceded by an intensifying rumble. The earth was shaking; the walls were trembling; only afterwards the blast shock wave hit the town. The houses began swinging from side to side, TVs and furniture fell over, chandeliers were broken into pieces, and sleepy people were thrown off their beds. Thousands of doors, windows and roof sheets were torn off. Because of the intense pressure fluctuations, manhole covers were blown off; hollow objects – sealed jars, light bulbs, toys - burst. Underground sewage pipes burst too. When the roar stopped, the people heard the rumble again, but this time it seemed to move away.
All this is not like an ordinary explosion. Specialists say that such damage to the town could be caused by an explosion of no less than 30 tons of TNT.
But why was the crater so small then? Two tons of TNT would be enough to make a crater of that size (according to V. Larin, explosives expert with large experience; after the seasons of fieldwork he had to detonate 1.5-2 tons of explosives because the warehouse wouldn’t take them back).
It seems to be very odd that in the immediate vicinity of the crater the grass, shrubs and trees remained intact (not damaged by neither the shock nor the high temperature). Why were the poles nearby tilted towards the crater? Why were the manhole covers blown off, why did the hollow objects burst?
And finally, why did the “explosion” appear to be stretched over time and preceded by rumble, earth shaking and the unusual lighting phenomena (apart from the glowing spheres and bright flashes, which were observed before the explosion, the crater itself glowed in the dark at night, until it was poured on with water).
The reason of the mysterious “attack” on the town remained unknown. Specialists came to the conclusion that neither humans, nor nature were capable to do such a thing.
We are about to tell our version. We know that in the middle parts of Russia local hydrogen streams may occur. These streams are accompanied by the formation of thermal water, which is also highly mineralized. When thermal mineralized water gets into a zone of lower temperature and pressure, it releases its minerals in the form of various “hydrothermalytes”, filling in the existing system of permeable pores and cracks. As a result, the hydrogen stream in the upper layers of the crust may form a dense cover around itself, thus blocking the hydrogen’s way out to the surface. This obstacle causes the accumulation of hydrogen and other gases in a certain volume (in a “boiler”) under the cover, thereby leading to a sharp increase of pressure. (Bubbles of gas that pop up from great depth of poorly compressible liquid lead to the increase of pressure in the upper parts of the system filled with this liquid). When the pressure in the boiler reaches a certain point, the cover and the soil layers above burst. There’s a massive ejection. This ejection mainly consists of hydrogen and water and maybe some carbon dioxide. (This way volcanic diatreme are formed, but in that case the scale is quite different and the role of poorly compressible liquid is performed by silicate melts.)
So the Sasovo crater№1 was formed not by an explosion, but by a bursting of a gaseous stream that mainly consisted of hydrogen; that’s why the crater was so small. (At great speeds the gaseous steams preserve their diameter and when hitting the outlet they even separate from the walls).
In addition to that, the explosion itself occurred when the hydrogen steam mixed with oxygen and created a cloud of explosive gas, i.e., the explosion occurred when the volume of such gas was rather big. A large amount of heat was released as a result of hydrogen combustion (237.5 kilojoules per mole) which led to a sharp increase of volume (explosive dispersion) of the products of the reaction. When explosions of such “great volume” occur, a zone of dilution (with lower pressure) forms behind the front of the shock wave. The same effect can be seen during the explosions of the so-called “thermobaric bombs”. We can’t but mention that when explosives specialists studied the Sasovo event, they noted that many details (the ripped off metal manhole covers, bursting of hollow objects, blown out doors and windows etc.) indicated the thermobaric type explosion. But the military insisted that an explosion of a “thermobaric bomb” must be excluded of the list of possible causes of the event. Still, the area was combed with the latest metal detectors, but no fragments of a bomb shell were found.
It is interesting to note the results of calculating the possible size of the underground boiler:
- The “boiler” was 600 meters below the surface where the pressure was 150 bars;
- The volume had only 5% of porosity in the form of interconnected caverns;
- The interconnected cavities were filled with hydrogen under the pressure of 150 atm;
- Only one twentieth of the ejected gas exploded; the rest simply dispersed in the atmosphere;
- The gas that exploded emitted the amount of energy equal to the explosion of 30 tons of TNT;
With such parameters the volume of the boiler could be approximately 30*30*50 meters.
Thus, the boiler was small on a geological scale. But the energy accumulated in it was thousands of times greater than the energy in the boilers of thermal power plants. There is a thermal power plant approximately one kilometer away from my home; when they release the pressure from their boiler – I go deaf and the windows in my apartment vibrate. Now try to imagine what would be the rumble and the vibration like if there was an underground boiler thousands of times more powerful near your house, and if it gave a crack and its contents were rushing out, making their way through a 600 meter layer of rock. It would seem a powerful earthquake accompanied by a strong underground rumble.
Now let’s talk about the mysterious lighting phenomena. Strong electrification in the area of an upcoming earthquake is normal: the hair stands up on ends, the clothing ridges and crackles; everything you touch strikes with sparks of static electricity. And if it happens at night you start glowing. A dry handkerchief can fly away just like a magical flying carpet. This phenomenon is beautiful, but terrifying at the same time (you never know how hard the quake will hit). Many seismic shocks are accompanied by the appearance of glowing spheres (especially near the epicenter). Some researchers call them “plasmoids”; but the nature of these phenomena remains unknown.
During the famous earthquake in Tashkent, the main shocks took place at night and the local authorities immediately turned off the city’s electric supply when they occurred. However, even with the electricity unplugged, some street lights lit up by themselves and remained lit during the seismic shock and for 10-15 minutes afterwards. The official report on Tashkent’s earthquake informs that the dark cellars (which were not electrified at all) were enlightened as if in daylight. It was assumed that the electrification and the light effects were somehow related to the accumulation of charges in the rocks.
Therefore, if the hydrogen stream gets «locked up» in the depths, it may result in gases’ breakthrough on the Earth’s surface and the formation of a crater. And apparently such a breakthrough doesn’t always lead to a thermobaric explosion in the atmosphere. If the hydrogen stream freely reaches Earth’s surface a collapse (karst) crater is formed. Those differences are obviously caused by the variation of physical and chemical properties of the rocks which infiltrate the hydrogen stream. And of course there are some intermediate types which combine the features of the two contrary types.
Concerning the age of the craters
The formation of craters on the Russian platform started in the 90's, and over the past 15 years no less than 20 have been formed. But these are only the craters which formation was witnessed, and we have no idea how many remained unnoticed or were found but not reported about.
Over time the craters "get old" and turn into small dish-shaped depressions quite quickly, they get overgrown with bushes and trees especially if they occur on the friable sands. And there are hundreds of such old "dish-shaped" (often perfectly round) depressions. The size varies from 50 to 150 m in diameter, some reach 300 meters. According to the satellite photos, they occupy up to 10 -15% of the territory in some regions, they are like pockmarks on the Earth’s face after a painful illness (Lipetsk, Voronezh, Ryazan, Tambov, Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod regions). From a geological point of view they are contemporary since they were formed after the glaciation, when the modern relief was already shaped (i.e., their age doesn’t exceed 10 thousand years). Judging by human standards these craters are "prehistoric", they "always" existed, and people haven’t seen (and don’t remember) their formation (i.e. they are over a thousand years old).
Such a version may be built up: a few thousand years ago an active process of craters formation was going on, then it stopped and started again now. What about the process of hydrogen degassing? Did it cause the formation of the "prehistoric" craters? And if so, did this process really pause on the Russian platform for thousands of years, and start again recently? Or the process of hydrogen degassing is constant, and hydrogen streams are of ancient inception? There are no answers to these questions yet.
Now it is impossible to say when the modern hydrogen streams occurred in the central regions of the Russian platform. Neither do we know how long the hydrogen stream “works” before the crater appears. Targeted research, experiments, and calculations are necessary to find this out. We can only assume (there is a reason for such assumptions) that the hydrogen stream "works" quickly. Taking into consideration that only a few tens of craters have been formed over the last 15 years, and it seems that they hadn’t been formed before (although the "publicity" has already existed), it turns out that the hydrogen streams are new phenomena, and of recent inception. We don’t know whether it has a global or local Russian character.
Concerning the "Silver Clouds"
Thereupon, we should probably pay attention to the “Silver clouds” phenomena. They consist of ice crystals of water and are located at the altitude of 75-90 km (in the mesopause zone). Experts on atmosphere cannot explain how the water vapor reaches that zone. The temperature there reaches minus 100oC and all the water freezes out at much lower altitudes. But if hydrogen dissipation from Earth into space takes place, it may reach the mesopause zone. That area is above the ozone layer; there is a lot of sun radiation and oxygen – everything necessary for water formation. The intriguing part here is that before the summer of 1885 the phenomena of the “Silver Clouds” didn’t exist. However, in June 1885 tens of observers from different countries noticed them simultaneously. Since then they have become an ordinary global event. So can we consider this fact as a proof of hydrogen degassing?
The "country cottage" anomaly
Taking trips to the Black Earth region is a pleasant thing, especially early in the autumn, when it’s harvest time and there are little mosquitoes, but the weather is still nice. But at the same time such trips are burdensome because it is indispensable to drive a massive off-road vehicle with tractor treads on the wheels. Additionally, such trips are tiring because of the single lane roads, filled with slow-crawling cargo transport. So, every time we were stuck in traffic we dreamt – “how great would it be if we discovered a hydrogen anomaly right in our country cottage”, which is only one hour away from an apartment in Moscow. In the country cottage there’s a shower, a sauna, a fireplace to warm up when it is bad weather; but once the rain is gone – you can start working right away.
During the next ordinary trip to the country cottage we measured the hydrogen concentration right on our property. We got a reading of over 500 ppm. We started measuring all around; first within meters, then within tens of meters, then hundreds of meters and finally within kilometers. The reading was hundreds of ppm; and every fourth reading exceeded 1000 ppm. Currently we discovered that there is a local anomaly in the Moscow region; it extends for at least 130 kilometers from south to north; its width is at least 40 km. We still haven’t determined its exact borders and we suspect that it is larger because some peripheral measurements exceeded 1000 ppm. This anomaly covers the entire city of Moscow.
The statement of the current situation is as follows: the activation of endogenous processes connected with hydrogen degassing has recently started on the Russian platform. Since the phenomenon is new for our civilization, it has to be thoroughly investigated.
What should be done?
Apparently, one should begin with the local hydrogen anomalies, which set the outlets of hydrogen streams on the planet's surface. A complex of geophysical methods has to be thought out to study this phenomenon.
- If the hydrogen stream forms a vertical permeability zone filled with water-hydrogen fluid, then the horizontal reflective surfaces are "blurred" in this area. Accordingly, such zones will be detected with the help of seismic methods (e.g., the method of reflected waves).
- The upper kilometers of such zones will be filled with mineralized water, i.e. the natural electrolyte with high conductivity. Consequently, these zones can be detected by methods of electrical exploration (e.g. method of magnetotelluric sounding - MTS).
- It should be taken into account that hydrogen itself causes porosity in the zone of its infiltration (when it assembles into streams). And it can cause such porosity (and cavernousness) not only in carbonates, but also in granites, granite gneisses, schists, etc. This process is accompanied by metasomatic transformation of silicate rocks (kaolinization, argillization). At the same time the volume weight of rocks significantly (sometimes sharply) reduces, which allows the successful use of gravimetry.
- Finally, in high-porosity zones (filled with water) the speed of seismic waves sharply reduces, which gives opportunity to use the method of seismic tomography.
The method of geophysical research, well-tested on local hydrogen anomalies and young craters and intended for the detection of hydrogen streams hidden in depths (and appropriate vertical zones of permeability) must be checked by drilling. Then it can be used to detect the potentially dangerous areas in territories where there are objects of utter importance. We can’t but mention that several years ago two craters appeared in the immediate vicinity of the Kursk nuclear power plant. If we find a method to detect the ”hydrogen boilers”, then it is quite possible that we will adjust to release their pressure and utilize thus obtained hydrogen, i.e. we will get considerable profit from this phenomenon, which otherwise may cause great damage and cause disasters.
At the moment we can definitely talk about neither the nature of the local hydrogen anomaly which covers the entire city of Moscow, nor about the consequences it may cause – there is still too little information. One thing is clear: it is too large, and we can hardly hope to take control of endogenous processes that it may be related to. These processes are likely to be going on in the depths not reaching the surface yet. However, they will probably do so in the near future, and a lot of related dangerous phenomena may occur simultaneously, so it would be better to get prepared beforehand.
About the near "human" future
First of all, within the regional anomaly the formation of blast and collapse craters is possible. According to the Moscow geo-ecologists (who do not have the information about the hydrogen streams yet), 15% of the city territory is located in zone of karst depression risk; collapses in these areas may occur at any time. Experts are aware of it, they talk and warn, but they have not been particularly active in forcing the authorities to take appropriate measures. Apparently, a calming factor works here - the prevailing opinion that karst cavities “take their time” in forming. According to our scenario, when hydrogen “works” (and it may “work” quickly), this threat must be taken with high priority. We must do our best, if it is not too late, to make urgent geophysical and geochemical studies, and carry on making them as a monitoring to determine the dynamics and direction of those endogenous processes. These studies should be held not only on the surface, but (which is very important!) in the underlying horizons too. This requires a network of parametric wells with depth of 100 m-1.5 km. It is necessary to accumulate a certain amount of primary data as soon as possible in order to understand in what direction we should move.
Now there is no clarity about the scale of potential damage the endogenous hydrogen degassing may cause within Moscow. However, if it were our decision, we would immediately (even before the situation is clarified) stop the construction of multi-storey buildings. They have great impact on the underlying horizons. And if there are hydrogen streams within the city (we are sure that there are some) capable of producing "warm" and chemically aggressive water, this water will erode the intense rocks at first, i.e. it will erode the rocks under the foundations of the skyscrapers. Do not mention the high buildings of the Stalin era as a disproof. Yes, they have been standing for more than half a century. But, firstly, they were built in another way, and secondly, the hydrogen degassing is likely to occur much later, and we began to notice its impact only 15 years ago.
About the near “geological” future
Within the bounds of "Hypothesis of Originally Hydridic Earth" the regional hydrogen anomaly is an early sign of the Russian platform’s preparation to the outflow of plateau basalts (traps). It must be mentioned that our platform is the only one among the ancient platforms, where the trap magmatism hasn’t occurred yet, the others experienced it in the Mesozoic and Paleogene. This phenomenon is well studied, and some facts about it are stunning: the complete absence of pre-tectonic and geothermal activity, a sudden beginning and huge volumes of lava streamed. This isn’t the ordinary volcanism; it is the "flood-basalts". In the Deccan Plateau of India over 650,000 km2 were flooded by these basalts, on the East Siberian Platform the flooded territory was even greater. This process is sequential, but the volume of a single eruption is surprising - they can flood thousands of square kilometers at a time (for example, the whole Moscow at once). One thing consoles: the outflowing plateau basalts is the geological future, it may take millions of years. But it may not take millions of years – the local hydrogen anomaly already exists. And God forbid it to be situated on the same territory where the asthenosphere projects (but it seems to be happening).
However, the beginning of the ”flood-basalts” phenomenon will be marked by clear signal that will be impossible not to notice (we will not talk about its nature this time). And we fear that little time will be left for evacuation after this signal - several years perhaps, but perhaps only a few months.
Is there a probable pleasant prospect?
However, there is also a nice aspect too: it is likely that the local anomaly will gather in a few powerful hydrogen streams at a depth of 1,5-2-2,5 km in the crystalline base of the platform. Then it will be possible to obtain hydrogen from wells. It is promising for a large-scale hydrogen production. The whole world dreams to switch to hydrogen energy, but nobody knows where to get it. We hope that the planet will wait a little while with basalts, giving us at least a couple of hundred years of peaceful existence, so that we could use this home hydrogen.
The mentioned above shows the necessity of a wide range of urgent studies. And we are ready to enumerate the necessary studies and the territories to be examined.
However, we would like to mention one of those studies right now. That concerns the methane explosions in the coal mines, which started to happen more and more often lately. In the methane (CH4) - one carbon atom has four hydrogen atoms, i.e. it mainly consists of hydrogen by the number of atoms of gas. When the hydrogen stream reaches the coal deposits, of course, methane is formed: 2H2 + C = CH4. Thus, hydrogen streams may form centers of methane accumulation in the coal basins, where methane may be stored at a high pressure. The situation is worsened by the fact that when the preliminary drilling was held in order to detect the risk of an explosion, these could not have existed yet, especially if the drilling was held 10-15 years ago. In short, if the centers of methane accumulation in coal basins are formed by streams of hydrogen, it will much easier to build up an effective system of measures minimizing the possible risks.
Translation: Ann Kolodych