Siberia’s "Door to the Underworld" Is Growing

A Siberian crater known locally as the “door to the underworld” is expanding, revealing millennia of climate data, along with long-lost forests and the remains of prehistoric animals. This is fine.

The Batagaika crater, a.k.a. the door to the underworld, a.k.a. the megaslump (we are not making this up), plunges into the permafrost in the northern Sakha Republic.

The kilometer-long, 328-foot-deep chasm has been growing since the 1960s as the result of climate change. As the permafrost thaws and softens, large sections of soil collapse, revealing a wealth of bizarre geological and biological material. Extreme weather events like flooding have accelerated the process. The crater is now gobbling up another 33 to 98 feet of tundra per year, emitting enormous booming sounds as large clods of soil fall in.

It sounds like the stuff of nightmares, but it’s also a scientist’s dream: a ready-made window into the world below the surface, going back hundreds of thousands of years.

“Its size is amazing,” researcher Julian Murton told the Siberian Times. “The crack itself is perfectly exposed, uncovered, all the layers are perfectly visible and can be thoroughly studied.”

Initial estimates put the soil in the deepest part of the chasm at around 120,000 years old, but Murton’s analysis of plant matter in the dirt found it was probably closer to 200,000 years.

The soil and its contents are a rich record of local life, including two wood-rich layers that Murton and his colleagues believe were once forests.

Additional exploration of the chasm has yielded the bodies of bison, horses, elks, mammoths, and reindeer, as well as a 4400-year-old foal, all beautifully preserved by the region’s year-round blistering cold.

The chasm is fascinating but problematic. Climate experts are concerned that the dissolution of the permafrost is unleashing thousands of years worth of stored carbon into the atmosphere. It’s “what we call positive feedback,” Frank Günther of Germany's Alfred Wegener Institute told the BBC. “Warming accelerates warming, and these features may develop in other places.”

Most People Consistently Visit 25 Different Places in Their Daily Lives

We move around a lot less during our daily lives than you might expect. Based on data from 40,000 people, a new study on human mobility finds that we tend to frequent only 25 places at any given time in our lives.

In the study, published in Nature Human Behaviour, researchers from City, University of London, the Technical University of Denmark, and Sony Mobile Communications found that people tend to have a maximum number of 25 places that they visit regularly, and if they begin frequenting a new place, they probably stop going to another, keeping their total number of haunts constant.

The researchers used several different datasets to understand how people move through their lives, including studies with college students and university employees, data from a smartphone activity tracker called Lifelog, and a Nokia research project that tracked the behavior of a group of cell phone users living near Lake Geneva in Switzerland between 2009 and 2011.

They found that people constantly face trade-offs between the curiosity that drives us to check out new places and the laziness and comfort that keeps us going back to our regular haunts. As a result, the number of locations we tend to visit stays relatively steady. People “continually explore new places yet they are loyal to a limited number of familiar ones,” the authors write.

Though that number may sound a little low to anyone with wanderlust, it makes sense. People don’t have infinite time or resources. Even the number of friends we’re capable of keeping up with is rather limited—anthropologist Robin Dunbar famously hypothesizes that humans can only sustain around 150 friendships at a time, and only five of those friends will be truly close ones. And if that’s our upper limit for connections we can technically maintain without ever leaving our computers, it makes sense that we would be able to sustain even fewer connections to places, which by nature require some amount of travel. If you find a new restaurant and become a regular, it’s probably at the expense of another restaurant you used to visit all the time.

However, the study found that the number of places you frequent can’t necessarily be explained only by the amount of free time you have. The researchers argue that “the fixed capacity is an inherent property of human behavior.” The 25-place rule held even if they adjusted for the time people spent at each location. They also found that the more social a person was, the more places they visited.

The researchers hope to continue their work by looking at connections between mobility and Dunbar’s work on social ties, figuring out how exactly your social life plays into how you move around the world.

Interactive Map Shows Where Your House Would Have Been 750 Million Years Ago

Your neighborhood traveled a long way over several hundred million years to reach the spot it occupies today. To trace that journey over the ages, check out Ancient Earth, an interactive digital map spotted by Co.Design.

Ancient Earth, a collaboration between engineer and Google alum Ian Webster and Paleomap Project creator C.R. Scotese, contains geographical information for the past 750 million years. Start at the beginning and you'll see unrecognizable blobs of land. As you progress through the ages, the land mass Pangaea gradually breaks apart to form the world map we're all familiar with.

To make the transition even more personal, you can enter your street address to see where it would have been located in each period. Five hundred million years ago, for example, New York City was a small island in the southern hemisphere isolated from any major land mass. Around the same time, London was still a part of Pangaea, and it was practically on top of the South Pole. You can use the arrows on your keyboard to flip through the eras or jump from event to event, like the first appearance of multicellular life or the dinosaur extinction.

As you can see from the visualization, Pangaea didn't break into the seven continents seamlessly. Many of the long-gone continents that formed in the process even have names.

[h/t Co.Design]