Entering the Gate of Hell

Explorer George Kourounis entered the mysterious crater in Turkmenistan that has remained on fire for more than half a century. How was the entrance to the Gate of Hell and what did they discover?

The Gate of Hell arouses fascination and terror in equal parts. It is in the immense Karakum Desert in Turkmenistan. It is a gas well that has not stopped burning for half a century. It was caused by a huge industrial accident that sought to take advantage of the area’s resources in 1963.

Entering the Gate of Hell was a risky experience.
Entering the Gate of Hell was a risky experience.

Dangerous descent

The tangible risk did not stop George Kourounis, a famous and daring Canadian explorer. “I have a lot of experience inside active volcanoes. That helped in the preparations,” he commented. He wore a special aluminum thermal protection suit, which at first glance looks like that of an astronaut. He also needed fire-resistant ropes and dangerous gas detectors. He used self-contained breathing apparatus to last without oxygen for more than a quarter of an hour.

Microbiologist Stefan Green was part of the expedition. He brought a sampling kit to collect sterile soil and sterilized containers. He sought to identify which bacteria were present in the crater.

The explorer used a special suit and ropes to enter the fiery crater.
The explorer used a special suit and ropes to enter the fiery crater.

Fire extinguished

Since September 2023, the intensity of the flames began to decrease after decades in which the fire remained constant. The local government discovered that the original well was already unrecoverable. So he opted to drill a new, more inclined one that aims to isolate the gas from the crater. They hope to stop emissions and take advantage of the hydrocarbon reserve.

The Darvaza crater today is half as bright as it used to be. Specialists believe that it will continue to get darker and that, eventually, the fire will be completely extinguished. “I would like the opportunity to go back and do a deeper scientific expedition before it disappears forever,” says George Kourounis. It seems that the Gate of Hell will finally, in a short time, stop burning.

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