What Causes Sinkholes



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For the War of 1812 battle, see Battle of the Sink Hole. For a hole in a sink, see Drain (plumbing). For a Sinkhole Server or Internet Sinkhole, see DNS_Sinkhole.

Bahmah Sinkhole in Oman

The Devil’s Hole sinkhole near Hawthorne, Florida, USA.
A sinkhole, also known as a sink, snake hole, swallow hole, swallet, doline, or cenote, is a natural depression or hole in the Earth’s surface caused by karst processes — for example, the chemical dissolution of carbonate rocks[1] or suffosion processes[2] in sandstone. Sinkholes may vary in size from 1 to 600 metres (3.3 to 2,000 ft) both in diameter and depth, and vary in form from soil-lined bowls to bedrock-edged chasms. Sinkholes may be formed gradually or suddenly, and are found worldwide. The different terms for sinkholes are often used interchangeably.[3]

[hide] 1 Formation mechanisms
2 Occurrence
3 Local names of sinkholes
4 Piping pseudokarst
5 Notable sinkholes
6 See also
7 References
8 External links

[edit] Formation mechanisms

Sinkholes near the Dead Sea, formed by dissolution of underground salt by incoming freshwater, as a result of a continuing sea level drop.

A special type of sinkhole, formed by rainwater leaking through the pavement and carrying soil into a ruptured sewer pipe.
Sinkholes may capture surface drainage from running or standing water, but may also form in high and dry places in a certain location.

The mechanisms of formation involve natural processes of erosion[4] or gradual removal of slightly soluble bedrock (such as limestone) by percolating water, the collapse of a cave roof, or a lowering of the water table. Sinkholes often form through the process of suffosion. Thus, for example, groundwater may dissolve the carbonate cement holding the sandstone particles together and then carry away the lax particles, gradually forming a void.

Occasionally a sinkhole may exhibit a visible opening into a cave below. In the case of exceptionally large sinkholes, such as the Minyé sinkhole in Papua New Guinea or Cedar Sink at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, a stream or river may be visible across its bottom flowing from one side to the other.

Sinkholes are common where the rock below the land surface is limestone or other carbonate rock, salt beds, or rocks that can naturally be dissolved by circulating ground water. As the rock dissolves, spaces and caverns develop underground. These sinkholes can be dramatic, because the surface land usually stays intact until there is not enough support. Then, a sudden collapse of the land surface can occur.

Sinkholes also form from human activity, such as the rare but still occasional collapse of abandoned mines in places like Louisiana. More commonly, sinkholes occur in urban areas due to water main breaks or sewer collapses when old pipes give way. They can also occur from the overpumping and extraction of groundwater and subsurface fluids. They can also form when natural water-drainage patterns are changed and new water-diversion systems are developed. Some sinkholes form when the land surface is changed, such as when industrial and runoff-storage ponds are created; the substantial weight of the new material can trigger an underground collapse of supporting material, thus causing a sinkhole.

[edit] Occurrence

Sinkholes are frequently linked with karst landscapes. In such regions, there may be hundreds or even thousands of sinkholes in a small area so that the surface as seen from the air looks pock-marked, and there are no surface streams because all drainage occurs sub-surface. Examples of karst landscapes dotted with numerous enormous sinkholes are Khammouan Mountains (Laos) and Mamo Plateau (Papua New Guinea).[5] The largest known sinkholes formed in sandstone are Sima Humboldt and Sima Martel in Venezuela.[5]

The most impressive sinkholes form in thick layers of homogenous limestone. Their formation is facilitated by high groundwater flow, often caused by high rainfall; such rainfall causes formation of the giant sinkholes in Nakanaï Mountains, New Britain island in Papua New Guinea.[6] On the contact of limestone and insoluble rock below it, powerful underground rivers may form, creating large underground voids.

In such conditions the largest known sinkholes of the world have formed, like the 662-metre (2,172 ft) deep Xiaozhai tiankeng (Chongqing, China), giant sótanos in Querétaro and San Luis Potosí states in Mexico and others.[5][7][8]

Unusual processes have formed the enormous sinkholes of Sistema Zacatón in Tamaulipas (Mexico), where more than 20 sinkholes and other karst formations have been shaped by volcanically heated, acidic groundwater.[9][10] This has secured not only the formation of the deepest water-filled sinkhole in the world — Zacatón — but also unique processes of travertine sedimentation in upper parts of sinkholes, leading to sealing of these sinkholes with travertine lids.[10]

The state of Florida in the United States is known for having frequent sinkholes collapses, especially in the central part of the state. The Murge area in southern Italy also has numerous sinkholes. Sinkholes can be formed in retention ponds from large amounts of rain.[citation needed]

The Great Blue Hole, located near Ambergris Caye, Belize.

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