Sinkholes, sometimes also referred to as sinks, swallow holes, cenotes, or swallets, are crevices, craters, or simply holes that can appear on the surface of the ground when the composition below suddenly or over time becomes disturbed. In many cases, this occurs due to the loss of soil or bedrock under the surface that has been deteriorated often due to moving water underground. The support that once kept the surface stable disappears. The surface then collapses into the space where that support has dissipated, creating a sinkhole.
The dangers associated with sinkholes can be immense. If the underground becomes disturbed near someone’s residence or business, an entire building can fall into the ground. Sinkholes can also prove as extreme hazards even if the radius of the hole does not create property damage to buildings or other structures.
Sinkholes can sometimes descend more than a hundred feet below the surface. The surface around a sinkhole that drops into the ground can be very slippery due to mud. Slipping and falling into the depths below is an additional danger. Furthermore, you don’t even have to fall into the hole that is visible to fall into a sinkhole. Usually, the surface surrounding a sinkhole is still very fragile due to the same erosion of soil, bedrock, or whatever else beneath. You may only have to step near a sinkhole to create another collapse deep into the ground.
Due to these possibilities, the danger of damage to property and of injury or death, especially to children who may not be aware of the dangers of sinkholes, is very significant. It is then important to know exactly what forces can create sinkholes. There are two main forces that create sinkholes. These are natural causes and human created causes.
The most common natural cause of sinkhole creation is again the movement of water underground. This fluctuation of underground water can include the “water-table” lowering underneath the surface. When the water-table descends, it can create an empty chasm under the ground. While the chasm was filled with water, the water may have actually helped the surface remain stable. After it leaves the chasm, the surface may no longer be stable enough, and the surface can collapse into a sinkhole.
Conversely, sudden movement of water into a space underground can also create a sinkhole. Soil and certain kinds of rock under the surface, for example limestone, may be soluble and can quickly deteriorate with a sudden flow of water. After this soil or rock is eaten away, the surface can certainly collapse into a sinkhole. Other natural conditions can also lead to sinkhole creation, such as the accumulation of too much sediment over a cavern beneath the surface.
Human intervention can also create sinkholes. A large cause of human created sinkholes is people tampering with the flow of water underground. One common example is pumping water underground for use as a public water source or for use in irrigation. The flow of water underground may also be changed if construction alters the natural drainage patterns on the surface that eventually lead underground. Another common cause is also the construction of buildings, roads, etc. that are too heavy for the surface to sustain. Digging underground can also create sinkholes as has happened many times with mining.
The causes of sinkhole creation are numerous, and the dangers they present can be extreme. It is important to know if a sinkhole can develop due to natural geography or through human tampering on or below the surface.