Tatsat Chronicle Magazine

Explained: What Lies Inside China’s Newly Discovered Giant Sinkhole?

May 13, 2022
giant sinkhole china

A team of Chinese scientists has discovered a new sinkhole 630 feet (192 meters) deep with a forest at its bottom, says a Xinhua report.

On May 6, a team of speleologists and spelunkers rappelled into the giant sinkhole, which is deep enough to just swallow St. Louis’ Gateway Arch. The team discovered three cave entrances and ancient trees of height of 131 feet (40 m) with the trees extending their branches towards the sunlight that filters through the sinkhole entrance, the report added.

George Veni, the executive director of the National Cave and Karst Research Institute (NCKRI) in the U.S., and an international expert on caves. Veni was not involved in the exploration of the cave, but the organization that was, the Institute of Karst Geology of the China Geological Survey, is NCKRI’s sister institute.

The discovery is no surprise, said George Veni, the executive director of the US-based National Cave and Karst Research Institute (NCKRI), the sister institute of Karst Geology of the China Geological Survey, which made the discovery.

In an interview, Veni said southern China is home to karst topography, a landscape prone to dramatic sinkholes and otherworldly caves. The karst landscapes are formed mainly by the dissolution of bedrock. Rainwater, which is slightly acidic, picks up carbon dioxide as it runs through the soil, becoming more acidic. It then trickles, rushes and flows through cracks in the bedrock, slowly broadening them into tunnels and voids. Over time, if a cave chamber gets large enough, the ceiling may slowly collapse, leading to huge sinkholes. Depending on local differences in geology, climate and other factors, the appearance of karst can be different.

The new discovery took place in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, near Ping’e village in Leye, says Xinhua.

Guangxi is known for its wonderful karst formations, which range from sinkholes to rock pillars to natural bridges, bringing the region the title of UNESCO world heritage site.

Treasures of the Sinkhole

The sinkhole is 1,004 feet (306 m) long and 492 feet (150 m) wide.

Chen Lixin, the leader of the cave expedition team, told Xinhua, that the dense undergrowth on the sinkhole floor was as high as a person’s shoulders.

The team now hopes to unearth species that have never been reported or described by science until now, added Lixin.

Other important treasures, such as aquifers or deep stores of underground water are also expected.

The new discovery brings the number of sinkholes in Leye County to 30, according to Xinhua.