When massive holes open up in the frozen Siberian ground for no obvious reason and continue to appear across the tundra at an alarming rate, the first causes that come to mind are collapsing ice plugs called pingos, methane exploding due to climate change, meteorites, missiles, UFOs, giant worms or underground aliens. That is, unless you’re a Russian petroleum industry scientist. According to a Russian website, scientists at a leading oil industry university are blaming the giant craters on hungry reindeer. Wait, what?

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A reindeer did this?

According to an article in the Russian media source Vesti, Vladimir Melnikov – the Head of the Faculty “Earth’s Cryosphere” at the Tyumen State Oil and Gas University, said in a television interview that industry researchers have a new theory about the sinkholes … reindeer eating too much lichen.

There was a grass and lichen cover on the Yamal Peninsula. But with increasing number of reindeer, the [vegetation] gets overgrazed. The reindeer are eating too much. No moss, no cover to reflect [sunshine] from the soil surface.

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Reindeer eating

If those gluttonous reindeer hadn’t eaten all of the lichen, the permafrost wouldn’t have been exposed to the warmer atmosphere caused by climate change and the methane gas hydrates below the surface never would have exploded and created the sinkholes, according to Melnikov.

Hmm. About 500,000 reindeer have been herded by indigenous people on the Yamal Peninsula peninsula for at least 1,000 years. Why are their reindeer suddenly eating lichen down to the methane?

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Reindeer herd

Maybe they’re not. Tyumen State Oil and Gas University is supported by Gazprom, the former Soviet Ministry of Gas Industry that is now a huge Russian company in the business of extraction, production, transport and sale of natural gas on the Yamal Peninsula. Their gas fields, pipelines, roads, railways, drilling towers and facilities are all over the tundra where the reindeer and their herders once migrated freely. (This is starting to sound like Oregon!)

What do you think? Is Vladimir Melnikov and the Tyumen State Oil and Gas University blaming the reindeer on behalf of Gazprom and the petroleum industry to draw attention away from the destruction of the area by drilling and climate change?

Has anyone asked a reindeer?

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I smell gas

Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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