Here’s a question. What do livestock, humans and Lake Michigan all have in common?
They all stand the chance of being swallowed by Earth.
Picture that. A huge hole that just shows up out of nowhere and engulfs anything within its radius. While this all sounds like it could paint a nifty picture, it’s still really terrifying!
It is also unbelievable that something like this can even happen, and it’s all because of a natural phenomenon known as sinkholes.
These intimidating cavities form when water erodes soluble rocks — generally limestone, dolostone and sandstone — underneath the Earth’s surface and dissolves the stone until it becomes too weak to support the soil on top.
Once the rock buckles, so does everything that’s sitting on top of it. No matter if it’s one house or 12, a parking lot or the world’s tallest building, all are susceptible to being swallowed whole by this natural occurrence if they’re resting on the right rocks.
That’s not to say each new hole is the size of a crater, but the most intriguing ones definitely are.
The average sinkhole can range anywhere between 1 meter and 600 meters (3.3 feet to about 2,000 feet) in both diameter and depth, according to sinkhole.org, but some of the most notable ones are even larger than that. The largest sinkhole in the world, according to wondermondo.com, a website that highlights attractions around the world, goes by the name Xiaozhai tiankeng — which translates to “heavenly pit.” It can be found in the Chongqing Municipality of China and measures 626 meters (2,066 feet) wide and about 662 meters (2,185 feet) deep.
Perhaps a lucky adventurer could be the first to dive down and dig through to the other side of the world! How’s that for an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records?
Other notable Earthly pits include the 613-meter-deep Dashiwei tiankeng in Guangxi, China; the 530-meter-deep Crveno Jezero at Red Lake in Split-Dalmatia, Croatia; and the 480-meter-deep Kavakuna sinkhole in Papua New Guinea.
And although these cavities have such elaborate names, geologists typically categorize sinkholes by their means of formation.
Collapse holes are generally funnel-shaped and form, often suddenly, when soil or rock material collapses into a cave. Damage from these kinds of sinkholes is often significant, and these are the holes that tend to swallow houses and parts of towns, according to eNotes.com.
Tiankengs, as suggested by the ones found in China, are extremely large sinkholes that are deeper and wider than 100 meters with vertical walls, and the Bahamas is home to both blue and black holes — startlingly gigantic deep water-filled pits that get their name from either the rich blue color that surrounds them or the ominous black that is left after even light is swallowed by the cavity.
Sinkholes can be found anywhere in the world, but ones in the United States can be found primarily in Florida, Kentucky, Missouri and even right here in southern Illinois. Many of the holes in southern Illinois form because of collapsed underground mines, which, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, can occur at anytime while mining and even up to 100 years after abandonment.
In fact, a reporter for examiner.com, a website that reports on pressing headlines in select areas around the country, reported in 2010 that crews worked to repair 81 sinkholes in the area that year, including one that appeared on Sycamore Street in Carterville and expanded to a nine-foot-deep gaping hole before causing road closures and headaches.
Imagine tripping and falling down one of those! Maybe a little less drastic, imagine how long it would take a rock to hit the bottom of one!
It’s intimidating to think that one of those holes could just happen at any time with little warning or preparation. There is a little relief, though, for those who might feel like they’re walking on eggshells to keep the earth intact.
Sinkholes are prone to form on a specific kind of land called karst. These types of landscapes form when rainwater and melted snow seep through thin soil and into fractured and soluble bedrock, according to the Illinois State Geological Survey website. And while there is a lot of soggy soil in the world, there is also a lot of dry area that would make for safe home establishments.
On the bright side of things, at least you know exactly where to jump if someone tells you to go to hell.