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The Sinkhole Is Nature's Scariest Trap, And They're Popping Up Everywhere

NOVEMBER 27, 2014

Imagine you're driving down the road, just minding your own business. Then, something terrifying suddenly happens. It feels like the ground under you gave out under your weight. Well, guess what? It has. This is because of nature's scariest phenomenon, the sinkhole.

A sinkhole can open up and swallow cars, a piece of the road, homes, and businesses out of nowhere.

They occur quickly and with little warning. They are holes that open up in the ground regardless of what may sit above them.

The ground may not be as solid as the old saying promises. Carbonate rock, gypsum, limestone, and salt beds are beneath our feet, and they can become eroded or soft.

Water can dissolve these rocks, creating empty pockets that become terrifying sinkholes.

Sinkholes can occur practically anywhere. In the U.S., they are most common in Kentucky, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Missouri, Texas, and Florida.

Sinkholes occur because the ground doesn't have enough drainage.

Water seeps into the soil and begins to erode the rock.

Sinkholes can be more than 100 feet deep. Sinkholes are usually 10 to 12 feet in diameter, but can be hundreds of feet wide.

Rocks that can be dissolved by water are known as evaporites.

There are evaporites beneath close to 40 percent of the United States, though many are located deep under the ground.

Sinkholes are known to appear suddenly, but there may be some signs that one is coming.

Sudden cracks in the foundation of a building, cracks in a circular pattern on the ground, and doors and windows that won’t close properly are all indicators of an imminent sinkhole.

Cairo has the biggest sinkhole in the world, the Qattara Depression. It has a surface area of 7,500 square miles, with an average depth of 200 feet.

Sinkholes are already scary, but the one in Berezniki, Russia is even worse. Since 1986, it’s been getting bigger every year. It’s already more than 650 feet deep and 260 feet long.

This horrifying image is exactly the sort of nightmare everyone imagines when they think of sinkholes.

The Sarisarinama sinkholes in Venezuela are famous for their beauty. They have their own little ecosystems with distinct flora and fauna. Each one is hundreds of feet deep.

The gigantic sink hole in Bimmah, Oman is used to lure tourists. There’s a swim park at the bottom of the hole.

If a sinkhole is caught early, cities can inject grout into the hole to rebuild a foundation over the degrading bedrock.

In Mexico, many sinkholes (called cenotes) expose these underground rivers and show the location of underwater limestone caves.

This stunning sinkhole is known as the Great Blue Hole. It can be found in Belize. Sinkholes can open up underwater, too. This one was formed by glaciers over 100,000 years ago.

Nature has a way of letting us know that it's more powerful than whatever we can build. Sinkholes are a humbling reminder that we are just visitors on Earth, no matter what we build.