In my recent post on temperature history around Moscow, Alexander posted a link to a vent in Siberian permafrost that sparked some interesting discussion. Syndroma followed up with a link to a paper that described the feature. I have two motives for writing this post. The first is to describe some aspects of the geology of this area and the vent which I find to be quite extraordinary. And the second is to highlight some commentaters’ obsession with seeking to explain all natural phenomena such as this one by anthropogenic global warming and to block out all other explanations no matter how plausible they may be. Unfortunately this extends to the authors of the paper (p68) (Marina O. Leibman, Alexander I. Kizyakov, Andrei V. Plekhanov, Irina D. Streletskaya ) who provide much useful descriptive detail but exclude what I consider to be the most likely origin using a false pretext.
What lies behind the formation of this recent vent in permafrost on the Yamal Peninsula? Is it the result of methane ice clathrates melting in the permafrost? Or is it the result of a natural blowout from natural gas deposits below the permafrost?
Let me begin by making a number of key observations.
The location of the vent is given as 69.58N and 68.22E. Zooming in on this on Google Earth yields the image below.
Figure 1 Click on all images to enlarge, note scale bar and coordinates at centre of image. Eye altitude 2.65km centred on the given coordinates. I can’t be certain this is the feature, it seems to be a bit too large and the coordinates for it are not exactly correct. Imagery date is 4th October 2013 and pre-dates the preferred date for the vent in question. If it is not the vent in question then it looks very like it, suggesting there may now be two or even three?
Figure 2 If we zoom out to 35.6 km, the vent is in the middle of the image, we see there are hundreds of small and large circular lakes in this area. I don’t believe all of these have formed the same way, many are likely to be subsidence features. But many of the small circular lakes look like they could have similar origins to the vent in question. There are hundreds of them.
Figure 3 Zooming out to 139 km eye height we see that the Yamal is totally pock marked with circular lakes of all sizes and that river courses prefer these lines of weakness.
The temperature history for two nearby climate stations (Salehard and Ostrov Dikson) have a temperature history typical of the Arctic comprising a warming leg from 1900 to 1940s followed by a cooling leg to 1970s followed by a warming leg to the present day. The 1940s were typically as warm if not warmer than the present day, not mentioned by Leibman et al. 
Figure 4 GHCN V2 temperature records for Salehard as reported by NASA GISS.
Figure 5 GHCN V2 temperature records for Ostrov Dikson as reported by NASA GISS.
Figure 6 The extraordinary thing about Siberian climate is the huge temperature swings between summer and winter. Temperatures below -20˚ in DJF are as cold as Antarctica. Temperatures above 10˚C in JA are close to those achieved in Scotland. The impact of summer warming is to turn the surface to mush but this does not normally mobilise more than the top 1 to 2 m, which then freezes solid again the following winter.
There are two main features associated with this crater 1) a vent 25 to 55 m across and 2) material ejected from the vent referred to by Liebman et al  as the parapet that forms a ring around the vent about 70 m wide (Figure 7). There seems little doubt from the morphology that the feature has been formed by an eruptive process.
Liebman et al  make some key and interesting observations:
The volume of the parapet is approximately 2000 m3. At the same time, the volume of the void inside the hole is no less than 25,000 m3, which is more than 10 times the volume of the parapet. The difference is due to high ice content observed in the crater walls and constituting more than 80 % according to estimate at a glance.
The region is in the zone of continuous permafrost at least 300 m thick, with high tabular ground ice content.
Figure 7 The vent has many features similar to a volcano. A central vent surrounded by debris ejected from it that forms the parapet. Initially the parapet will have been much larger (taller) and made up of ice blocks that have subsequently melted.
We are in fact dealing with a substantial ice sheet. The elevation of the area is about 30 m above sea level, hence much of this ice sheet lies below sea level and presumably beyond the shores of the peninsula the ice sheet continues below the sea floor.
The small amount of debris compared to the volume of the vent shows that it was formed either by the eruption of gas or water. We now have enough information to piece together a jigsaw. Immediately post-eruption, the volume of debris, mainly ice, will have been much larger than we see today with a substantial volcano like cone around the vent. In summer the temperatures rise briefly and substantially above zero (Figure 6) and the ice melted giving rise to the melt water runnels that scar the icy walls of the vent.
Liebman et al  describe how the feature is rapidly collapsing due to melting. Melting of the vent walls is widening the vent with consequent collapse of silty debris into it. The parapet is being consumed as the vent widens. The hole is steadily filling with debris (mud and silt) and water and soon all that will be left is an irregular circular lake.
The Yamal peninsula forms part of the West Siberian natural gas province with some of the worlds biggest gas fields. The giant Bovanenko gas field lies beneath Yamal feeding gas to the Nordstream pipeline and northern Germany. The whole area will likely be underlain by mature natural gas source rocks producing gas 24/7/365 at depths of 10,000 to 15,000 ft and temperatures in excess of 100˚C. Globally, much of this gas seeps to surface where it escapes into the atmosphere continuously. Some of it gets trapped in sub-surface features that become gas fields.
It is established that permafrost prevents the migration of methane from deep-seated hydrocarbon collectors into the upper permafrost and to the surface. 
Thus, the impermeable ice layer prevents the escape of this leaking gas that presumably ponds in structures beneath the ice forming shallow reservoirs. Shallow gas accumulations and gas chimneys are common features above oil and gas fields.
The depth of the hole could not be accurately measured but it exceeds the 50 m to which the rope was lowered and was possibly around 70 m on July 16 and much less (no more than 35 m) on August 25. The depth is changing as the crater fills with mud, turf and water from the thawing permafrost. 
This is a crucial observation. The depth on July 16th was unknown but estimated to be about 70m. By August 25th thawing of the vent and in fill from the parapet had reduced the depth by 35 m in little over a month. Clearly the initial depth must have been significantly in excess of 70 m.
There are two potential sources for the gas effusion responsible for forming this vent. The first is gas sourced within the ice itself and the second is thermal gas originating far below the ice that ponded beneath the ice sheet. Liebman et al.  do not consider this latter possibility at all. All they do is discount this option based on the following:
As water accumulates at the bottom of the hole, the feature has no access to deeper layers and the assumption that deep-seated gas deposits caused the crater is implausible. 
This assertion has no credibility and it is surprising it made it through peer review. The authors describe how the vent began to fill with silt and mud and this would quickly seal off flow through any conduit to permeable strata beneath the ice that might once have existed. The vent could then quite easily begin to fill with water that as observed froze, providing a further seal. The fact that the vent is filling with water provides zero evidence against the possibility that it penetrates all the way through the ice to tap a shallow gas reservoir ponded beneath it.
Figure 8 Crater Lake Oregon fills a collapsed volcanic vent (caldera) in Oregon. There is no doubt that the original volcanic vent tapped a magma source deep within the Earth’s crust. Subsequent collapse of the structure sealed off the conduits that once allowed gas and magma to easily flow to surface.
This of course provides no evidence to support the notion that the gas had a deep, thermal origin, but it does raise a question in my mind as to the motives for wanting to discount it. Following their logic, volcanoes could not form crater lakes.
Leibman et al. advocate an origin for the vented gas from within the ice citing a warm 2012 summer as the trigger for the event. This is also somewhat of a mystery for me. With a minimum depth of the vent set at 70 m I know of no conceivable process that could trigger clathrate to melt over 70 m down in an ice pack as the result of a few months of anomalous warm weather one summer (Figure 6).
The origin of this crater is attributed to the anomalously warm summer of 2012, the increased ground temperature and amount of unfrozen water in the permafrost, expanding of cryopegs, formation of a pingo-like mound and its outburst due to high pressure produced by gas hydrate decomposition within permafrost. 
This bears all the hallmarks of Greenscience which is disappointing to see from Russian scientists that I had hoped may have avoided this particular curse. The paper is published in a journal called Geography Environment Sustainability.
With the available evidence, it is in fact not possible to draw a firm conclusion about the origin of this vent. I am drawn more to the possibility that vent is the result of a natural gas blow out for a number of reasons. First there is a very high concentration of these circular vent-like features on Yamal that is known to be underlain by giant natural gas fields. Second, natural gas ponded beneath the ice could provide the energy and flow to create a blowout feature such as this. And third deep sourced natural gas may transfer heat towards the surface and this heat may help cause a weakness in the ice allowing the gas to escape to surface.
If the gas has origins within the ice then it would be necessary to invoke mobilization of a laterally continuous gas rich layer in order to muster sufficient gas and energy to form the feature. And the question remains as to why super cooled mobilized gas should elect to punch its way vertically to surface through a circular vent. A more normal behaviour would be for gas to migrate up dip through the mobilized layer until it met a fracture (fault) that would provide a pre-existing conduit to surface. Even if the gas does have an origin within the ice, I do not believe it is possible to conclusively link this to anthropogenic global warming or a warm 2012 summer.
If the vented gas had a deep origin then it will be long gone. High methane concentrations in the vicinity of the vent today will clearly have an origin from within the ice melting around the vent. Hence, compositional analysis of the gas there today will tell nothing about the source of the vented gas.
We live in a world where every weather, climatic or environmental feature is explained by anthropogenic global warming. Observations are made and workers decide how best to concoct a story that fits with the AGW story line. This is not science.
Proving the hypothesis presented in the paper would require a full range of field, laboratory and remote-sensing studies. 
Nor is this.
 Marina O. Leibman, Alexander I. Kizyakov, Andrei V. Plekhanov, Irina D. Streletskaya (2014) NEW PERMAFROST FEATURE – DEEP CRATER IN CENTRAL YAMAL (WEST SIBERIA, RUSSIA) AS A RESPONSE TO LOCAL CLIMATE FLUCTUATIONS: GEOGRAPHY ENVIRONMENT SUSTAINABILITY no 4 volume 7, p 68.
[Note added 11 th April: In comments Roger Andrews presents a compelling argument that this feature is in fact a sink hole and this has become my preferred explanation. The model would involve the collapse of a cylindrical body of ice and frozen clay into a water or gas filled void beneath. This would cause the displacement of fluids upwards through the “vent” creating the eruptive features associated with the parapet. The main weakness of this explanation lies in the creation of a large fluid filled void beneath the surface ice into which the cylindrical plug of permafrost collapsed.]