A group of scientists is gearing up, their hearts pounding. They’re about to descend into an unknown cavity on a mountainside in the middle of nowhere. Not knowing what is in store for them, they walk to its edge, lean back, and let gravity pull them into the earth.
What began as an ordinary day for this team of Chinese explorers, would end in a massive discovery that would make a huge impact on their field of study. Upon finally reaching the bottom of the cavern, they laid their eyes on a magnificent landscape unlike anything ever seen before.
Our planet keeps many secrets. These wonders are underground; they’re at the bottom of the ocean, in the treetops, and sometimes they’re even right in front of us. Only when the planet is ready, will it reveal them.
The Dyrt Magazine
Sinkholes are among the most mysterious of those wonders. They exist all over the world, right underneath our feet. They form over hundreds of thousands of years until one day Mother Nature shows us what’s beneath.
One area that is teeming with sinkholes is the Fengshan County, in South Central China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. This wondrous landscape attracts tourists and visitors each year — and, for a good reason, scientists.
See, sinkholes form in what’s called a karst environment. Karst topography forms due to the erosion of rock types that are soluble in water. Additionally, water will dissolve certain types of rock over time due to the lack of drainage outlets in the bedrock.
When this happens, it will form a sinkhole or depression in the ground. Sinkholes can also form due to frequent freezing and thawing of subsurface water, and shoddy plumbing work. What does this have to do with Fengshan County?
Fengshan County is a karst regision also known for its massive cave systems (there are 50 known caves in an area of 20,000 square feet)! Features like this lure scientists to the area from all over the world.
Allison Williams Blog
On October 4, 2018, 19 scientists from the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences Institute of Karst Geology and the International Cave Association started a four-day expedition through the mountains that would lead them to an amazing discovery.
Euronews / YouTube
They were on a mission to reach a large sinkhole to record the exact dimensions and vastness of the cavern. When they finally reached the sinkhole, they geared up to propel down into the cavity.
Euronews / YouTube
They lowered themselves in using a single rope technique, which allows cave divers to cascade into the opening using one vertical rope. Dangerous? Potentially. But these professionals knew what they were doing.
Eruonews / YouTube
When the team finished their descent and placed their feet on solid ground again, they were awestruck at what they had just entered. They quickly realized this wasn’t just an ordinary sinkhole.
This was a tiankeng, as the Chinese would say. Tiankeng translates to “skyhole,” sinkholes that reach down over 100 feet. There are less than 100 known tiankengs in the world. This made their research mission world class.
The geologists and researchers were going to use a 3D scanning technique to examine the size of the main hall and all of the corridors that lied dormant underneath the ground waiting to be exposed.
Alessio Romeo / ESA
They concluded the basement of the cavern dropped nearly 400 feet below the surface and stretched about 650 feet in length. The mouth of the cavern was approximately 330 feet wide. Meaning?
This meant the volume of space they were standing in was a massive 236 million cubic feet! There was also a sub-hall in the cavern that was almost 500 feet tall — and this was all underground. This meant that the cavern was big enough to fit the Great Pyramid of Giza, not once, but twice!
Incredibly, remember this was all hidden underground! This research discovery about the massive cavern created over thousands of years was monumental.
The team also discovered that the cavern might be in mid-collapse. Scans revealed that there is a network of underground rivers, which feed into the Panyang River.
South China Morning Post
And as the causes for sinkholes is often the erosion of rocks or subsurface water, the experts naturally supposed these underground rivers were probably responsible for the creation of the cavern — and the cause of the sinkhole.
The team was praised for their discovery, but could not take all of the credit. Researchers from Hong Kong originally discovered the sinkhole, which enticed their team to further explore. In their honor, they named the cavern Hong Kong Haiting Hall.
Chinese Geological Survey
Scientists are hoping that their research conducted in the cave will help shed light on the extraordinary and ever-changing landscape of the Fengshan County region in China.
Global Geoparks Network
Earth is our home, our safe planet where, if nothing else, we can always rely on the laws of physics and gravity. And those laws tell us that we can trust that the ground we walk on will support us… or so we thought.
That faith, however, is put to the test when the earth opens up and mercilessly swallows up bits of our so-called safe world, like that giant sinkhole in China. What’s even more, new sinkholes are opening up all the time!
1. In February of 2007, what locals originally thought were the sounds of bombs exploding, turned out to be the ground falling out from under them. Terrified residents of Guatemala City watched as dozens of houses were swallowed into a 330-foot hole.
Authorities believe the sinkhole resulted from recent heavy rains and a ruptured sewage pipe. Only three bodies were recovered from the hole, but 1,000 people were evacuated with the fear that it might continue to grow.
2. In February 2013, 37-year-old Jeff Bush was soundly sleeping in his Florida home when a 50-foot sinkhole opened up underneath him. His brother, Jeremy, who heard the horrendous sound ran into what was his brother’s bedroom…
After jumping into the hole in an attempt to save his brother, Jeremy had to be rescued himself. Just imagine sleeping peacefully in your bed when suddenly your bedroom floor rips open and takes you and all your sweet dreams with it! The nightmare doesn’t end there…
3. Blowholes aren’t just the cute little fountains on the noggins of whales, they can also be dangerous geological formations. In coastal areas, water from the ocean can erode the terrain creating a hole in the rock that acts as a high powered super-vent for water to be blown out and violently sucked back in. Take this one in Hawaii…
Maui is home to the Nakalele blowhole. In July of 2011, a 44-year-old man on vacation from Canada was dancing around the hole when its current sucked him into the sea. He was spotted once more by terror-stricken on-lookers in the next wave and then never again…
4. In 2000 in a Moses-like sea floor reveal, the ancient city of Thonis-Heracleion in Egypt was discovered almost perfectly intact after 1,200 years underwater. The city, which now lies under the Mediterranean, was once a major port on the Nile River and home to thousands of inhabitants.
Scientists haven’t yet concluded whether an earthquake, tsunami, or a series of volcanic eruptions caused Heracleion to sink. Some experts believe there’s enough evidence to prove that the city sank in a single day, possibly bringing thousands of residents down with her.
5. In 2001 two young friends, Alyshia Bennett and Chloe Foster, went to Charlestown Lake outside of Cornwall, England. Swimming out to explore a small island they spotted in the middle of the lake, the last thing they expected was to have a run-in (sludge-in?) with quicksand.
Luckily, as the girls became trapped in the deadly sand, two nearby friends came to the rescue by climbing a nearby tree that reached over the water. They cleared water and sand from their mouths, buying the girls enough time for the fire department to arrive and safely unearth them from a near-fatal end.
6. In 2006, a 19th-century goldmine under Alta, California collapsed after rains weakened a portion of its huge underground tunnel network. The old mine in question was directly under the home of Jason Chellew.
After Jason went to investigate some strange noises coming from the floor in his living room, he was instantly devoured by the old mine as a massive sinkhole formed. Though his body was retrieved after a few days, old mining tunnels remain a threat and we can only hope Jason was the last to fall for gold.
7. Similar to the Sinkhole in Guatemala City, this Atlanta hole was caused by excessive rain and a burst drainage pipe under a hotel parking lot. Three cars and two people were instantly dragged into the pit…
While one of the bodies was recovered directly from the hole, the second was found days later in a sewer pipe. Three cars getting dragged into a pit might have you imagining a top-speed refueling at a Nascar event, but this ‘pit’ definitely wasn’t delivering a tuneup.
8. Although the Solfatara Volcano just outside of Naples, Italy is dormant, that doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous. The volcano still actively emits deadly jets of steam and sulfurous gases. Signs lurk every corner warning visitors to beware of the volcanic crater…
In 2017, one child visiting the site with his family wandered off into the restricted area. The parents ran to bring him back to safety, but the weight of the three of them caused the ground to collapse, trapping them. This was a fatal reminder that volcanoes never really sleep.
9. A magnitude 7 earthquake hit Fukui, Japan in 1948 wreaking havoc across the area. It was so devastating that the Japan Meteorological Agency increased its scale of seismic intensity, as the earth actually opened up, causing one unfortunate woman to meet her fate.
According to witnesses, the woman fell into a fissure on a rice paddy that closed up again as the earthquake continued, crushing her. The woman’s husband and children later found her body with her hands still gripping onto rice plants, in what they could only guess was an attempt to dig herself out.
10. In April of 1993, 7-year-old Kwami Sharif was playing with his brother in the courtyard of their apartment in North Brunswick, New Jersey. When Kwami stuck his foot in a small hole in the yard, the ground sank eight feet, pulling the boy down into a mess of water and debris.
Kwami’s father was close by, and along with help from neighbors, he desperately attempted to rescue his son. Seven hours of digging finally revealed the boy’s body, where it was confirmed that he died after asphyxiating on the earth itself.