Gigantic Earth Sinkhole in Guatemala City amazes Scientists, Geologists and People of all sections

It was something very strange that was reported to have happened as recently as in the months of February and May this year in the Guatemala City, the largest city in the Central America region.

News flashes across the world reported a giant earth (sub-surface) sinkhole probably caused by the rains triggered by the recent tropical storm 'Agatha' in the Guatemala City. "The cavernous and almost perfectly round sinkhole — about 66 feet (20m) diameter and 330 feet (100m) deepswallowed an entire intersection and a cloth factory, spooking people in the neighborhood but exciting geologists" reports the news sections in almost all forms of media across the world.

Now, having spent a quick but amazed glance
at the pictures followed by subsequent bit deeper thought and a little research on it, the phenomenon of sinking of earth in such fashion is a tricky issue on its own, if not spooky in entirety.

What is a Sinkhole?

One may think what is a sinkhole which is being reported in the news reports. In simple terms, a sinkhole is typically a geotechnical / geological term that indicates sinking of part of the land due to certain external and/or internal sub-surface activities together with the water undercurrents flowing beneath the surface destabilizing the landmass over it.

Usually this happens where the soil is non-cohesive; the sub-surface in general is porous in nature; and an aquifer or any flowing water body is passing by underneath. The flow of water keeps on eroding the channel thereby creating kind of an underground cavity, which makes the ground above it susceptible to fall down on its own weight. Landmasses consisting of porous grade limestone, coal, soft sandstones, etc. as well as filled-up areas with loose non-cohesive soil types are in constant danger of such sinking of grounds, thereby creating caverns and large irregular holes on the land surfaces.

What can be done to avoid such tragic situations arising by Sinkhole?

Nothing much, to be very frank, in case one is living in an area which in entirety is naturally or man-made formed of such sub-surface.

But, having said so, one can avoid such situations by not choosing susceptible places like this for building their houses, buildings, factories, etc. This can be done getting acquainted with the subsurface properties by getting conducting detailed geotechnical (subsurface) investigations, which technically let us know the properties and nature of the soil strata of a particular place.

In case the geotech studies suggest the subsurface to be weak and the ground to be susceptible to sink, adequate design measures must be ensured which could make the structures building over it safer. All the same, having known the risks, one should avoid building structures in such places. Precaution is always better, all would agree after all!

Image source: AFP / TOI / Google images
Stuff of likely interest:

Avatar (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo) [Blu-ray]             Sinkholes and the Engineering and Environmental Impacts of Karst (Geotechnical Special Publication)              Sinkholes and the Engineering and Environmental Impacts of Karst (Geotechnical Special Publication)

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