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Uploaded:2013-11-26
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In this episode of SciShow, Hank talks about a crater in Turkmenistan that has been on fire for decades and has earned itself the title of: The Door to Hell!

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Sources:
http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/04/20/us-turkmenistan-crater-odd-idUSTRE63J4H120100420
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2179622/The-Door-Hell-Giant-hole-Karakum-Desert-40-YEARS.html
http://www.treehugger.com/clean-technology/geologists-accidentally-opened-the-door-to-hell.html
http://excitingearth.com/2013/03/31/derweze-the-door-to-hell/
http://sometimes-interesting.com/2013/07/31/turkmenistans-door-to-hell/

 Introduction


I don't want to get too bogged down in the etmology, but if you're going to name a place "The Door to Hell", it had better look something like this. In this case, I think we can all agree; the name fits.
*Sci-Show theme song plays*

 Body


The Door to Hell, otherwise known as the Darvaza Gas Crater isn't, exactly, a natural phenomenon. Nature merely provided the raw materials for humans managed to turn into a decades long enviromental freak show. And while its origin is somewhat shrouded in mystery, the science behind it is not. It was 1971 when a group of Soviet petroleum geologists set out to explore the Karakum Desert in Turkmenistan. Mostly they were looking for oil fields, but the reigon is also rich in natural gas, because oil and gas are both the results of the same geologic process. The very slow, very intense compression of ancient organic material over time. Though there has never been an official report about the events that followed, most believe that during the original exploration, the geologists were so encouraged by their estimate of how much natural gas there was, they quickly set up some drilling rigs. But unbeknownst to them, they drilled over a big, cavernous pocket of natural gas and it collapsed soon after the operation began. The ground gave way, taking with it their equipment and creating an enormous sink hole more than 60 meters in diameter and 20 meters deep. Miraculously, no one was reported to have been killed, but there was another problem. Natural gas is composed primarily of methane, a colorless, oderless gas, that while not toxic can displace oxygen and can easily make it hard to breathe when it's nearby. And then there's that thing about methane that we like so much in the first place, it loves to explode. It can create a combustible mixture in the air at levels as low as 5%. Plus, even though we had yet to pick up on the fact of global warming back then, it's worht pointing out that methane is a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. That's why in some oil and gas drilling operations where natural gas is released, if it can't be captured, it's just burned off in a process called flaring. Yes, this still releases tons of CO2, but CO2 is way less bad than methane. Anyway, those '70s Soviet scientists were left with a choice:
1. Continue to let the dangerous methane vent into the atmosphere, putting the local population and enviroment at risk.
OR 2. Light the crater on fire, burning off all the gas, in what scientists predicted would take a few weeks.
They chose the latter and 42 years later, the crater is still burning. Today, the Door to Hell has become something of a tourist attraction, creating an eerie glow that can be seen at night from kilometers away and releasing a terrible, eggy smell that has nothing to do with natural gas, which remember has no smell, but is instead produced by hydrogen sulfide in the ground. Can't wait to go there myself. And if you want to visit, you probably have some time. The fire will continue to burn until all the natural gas deposits feeding the flame have been combusted and no one knows when that's going to happen. 

 Conclusion


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*Sci-Show theme song plays*