By India Today Science Desk: Known to locals as the gateway to the underworld, this ground in Siberia has remained frozen for over six lakh years, becoming the second oldest ever discovered on the planet.
Amid the permafrost lies the Batagay megaslump, which is the world’s largest permafrost landslide, which is suffering the impact of increased human activity in the region.
Scientists have now taken samples from the megaslump to better understand the climate of our ancient past. Analysis revealed it is at least over six lakh years old.
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The megaslump has grown to cover an area of 0.8 square kilometers and its sediments preserve the evidence of the ancient environment and climate that once covered this region. The slump is now part of a series of other studies that include Canada’s Yukon, which is nearly 7,00,000 years old.
Permafrost is the layer of soil, sediment, or rock that remains at or below zero degrees Celsius for two or more consecutive years. It is predominantly found in the polar regions and high-altitude mountainous areas. Permafrost acts as a natural freezer, preserving evidence of Earth’s past and its climate.
“We can now just add another site to the map so that we can really start reconstructing the climate and also the environment for this period of time,” Thomas Opel, a paleoclimatologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany told LiveScience.
His team has now presented their findings based on cryostratigraphic observations (the study of frozen layers in the Earth’s crust and dating results, which provide evidence for several periods of permafrost formation and degradation.
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WHAT CAN WE FIND?
Permafrost traps and stores organic matter such as plants, animals, and microbes that existed in the past. The cold temperatures slow down decomposition, allowing these remains to be remarkably well-preserved.
They also contain layers of ice known as ice wedges or ice lenses. These ice formations can trap air bubbles, dust particles, and isotopes, providing a record of atmospheric composition and climate conditions at the time of their formation.
Permafrost also preserves sediments that have accumulated over time. These sediments may contain pollen, plant remains, and other geological indicators that offer valuable information about vegetation changes, and landscape dynamics of the region.
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LOOKING BACK IN TIME
The team used radiocarbon dating to look back in time via the permafrost and the measurements revealed that the oldest accessible layers of permafrost in the slump were laid down 6,50,000 years ago.
“Given the fact that there is so much ancient carbon in the permafrost, we hope we can help a little bit to predict how permafrost could react to climate change in the future,” Opel said.
The team hopes to find more evidence of how the situation was back then and how the region faced and survived global warming and even intense glacial periods of the last million years.
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