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.”

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Courtesy of Sotheby's
Found: A Rare Map of Australia, Created During the 17th Century
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Courtesy of Sotheby's

More than 40 years before Captain James Cook landed on Australia’s eastern coast in 1770, renowned Dutch cartographer Joan Blaeu created an early map of the Land Down Under. Using geographical information gleaned from Dutch navigator Abel Tasman in the 1640s, it was the first map to include the island state of Tasmania and name New Zealand, and the only one to call Australia “Nova Hollandia.”

Very few copies—if any—of the 1659 map, titled Archipelagus Orientalis (Eastern Archipelago), were thought to have survived. But in 2010, a printing was discovered in a Swedish attic. After being restored, the artifact is newly on display at the National Library of Australia, in the capital city of Canberra, according to

The seller’s identity has been kept under wraps, but it’s thought that the map belonged to an antiquarian bookseller who closed his or her business in the 1950s. For decades, the map sat amidst other papers and books until it was unearthed in 2010 and put up for auction.

The National Library acquired the 17th century wall map in 2013 for approximately $460,000. After a lengthy restoration process, it recently went on display in its Treasures Gallery, where it will hang until mid-2018.

As for other surviving copies of the map: a second version was discovered in a private Italian home and announced in May 2017, according to Australian Geographic. It ended up selling for more than $320,000.


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What's the Difference Between a Lake and a Pond?
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Around 71 percent of the Earth's surface is covered in water, which is why geographers have coined so many names to describe the forms it takes. But what’s the real difference between, say, a lake and a pond, a spring and an oasis, or a creek and an arroyo?

Vox gets granular with geography in the video below, explaining the subtle distinctions between everything from a bay (a part of an ocean, surrounded by water on three sides) to a barachois (a coastal lagoon, separated from the ocean by a sand bar). The five-minute explainer also provides maps and real-life examples, and describes how certain bodies of water got their names. (For example, the word geyser stems from geysa, meaning "to gush.")

Guess what? A geyser is also a type of spring. Learn more water-based trivia—and impress your nature-loving friends the next time you go camping—by watching the video below.