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Earth Science

Giant Guatemalan 'Sinkhole' Is Worse Than We Thought 357

Posted by kdawson
from the series-of-pipes dept.
reillymj writes "Despite hundreds of media reports to the contrary, Sam Bonis, a geologist whose life work has been studying Guatemalan geology, has plainly said that the dramatic 'sinkhole' in Guatemala City that opened over the weekend isn't a sinkhole at all. Instead, he called it a 'piping feature' and warned that because the country's capital city sits on a pile of loose volcanic ash, the over one million people living on top of the pile are in danger. 'I'd hate to have to be in the government right now,' Bonis, who worked for the Guatemalan government's Instituto Geografico Nacional for 16 years, said. 'There is an excellent potential for this to happen again. It could happen almost anywhere in the city.'"
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Giant Guatemalan 'Sinkhole' Is Worse Than We Thought

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  • by IndustrialComplex (975015) on Friday June 04, 2010 @11:09AM (#32458642)

    Looks like the city nearly doubled its surface area!

  • Moving the country? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MalHavoc (590724) on Friday June 04, 2010 @11:09AM (#32458646)
    Probably not even remotely possible due to its size, but a similar problem seems to have been created in Kiruna, in Sweden. The town sits on top of the world's largest iron ore mine, and the mine has created a large cavity under the town. They are moving everything, in some cases, literally brick by brick. There's a neat article about it in this month's National Geographic.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by swanzilla (1458281)

      Probably not even remotely possible due to its size, but a similar problem seems to have been created in Kiruna, in Sweden. The town sits on top of the world's largest iron ore mine, and the mine has created a large cavity under the town. They are moving everything, in some cases, literally brick by brick. There's a neat article about it in this month's National Geographic.

      Guatemala != Guatemala City

      Thirteen and two million resindents, respectively...either way, your idea is awful.

      • by couchslug (175151) on Friday June 04, 2010 @11:27AM (#32458954)

        "Thirteen and two million resindents, respectively...either way, your idea is awful. "

        It isn't "awful" if it's necessary, then it's just "unfortunate".

        The intelligent thing to do is (gradually) either relocate (much work to replicate systems) or DISPERSE the city elsewhere. Efficient dispersal of population is likely the lowest-impact way to deal with the disaster.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by element-o.p. (939033)
          I was in Guatemala (and Guatemala City) in January, so let me provide a little perspective on this. Guatemala is a country of contrasts -- downtown Guatemala City is very modern, and very nice, for the most part. It's industrialized, and most (U.S.) Americans wouldn't feel *that* out-of-place, other than the barbed-wire everywhere (don't be out alone after dark...) and the Spanish on all the signs. However, most of us in the U.S. or Europe have no concept of the degree of poverty that lives right next to
    • by nightfire-unique (253895) on Friday June 04, 2010 @11:24AM (#32458906)

      Probably not even remotely possible due to its size, but a similar problem seems to have been created in Kiruna, in Sweden. The town sits on top of the world's largest iron ore mine, and the mine has created a large cavity under the town. They are moving everything, in some cases, literally brick by brick. There's a neat article about it in this month's National Geographic.

      I dunno why, but I suddenly pictured a bunch of embarrassed Swedes whistling as they quietly move the town over a few hundred meters.

      • by tlhIngan (30335) <slashdot AT worf DOT net> on Friday June 04, 2010 @12:18PM (#32459632)

        I dunno why, but I suddenly pictured a bunch of embarrassed Swedes whistling as they quietly move the town over a few hundred meters.

        And a bunch of confused tourists wondering why their GPSes are off so badly - the map is right, but it says the town is somewhere else.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        I dunno why, but I suddenly pictured a bunch of embarrassed Swedes whistling as they quietly move the town over a few hundred meters.

        Well, it's not the first town we've moved! Malmberget and Grängesberg are a few others. And Falun (one of the world's largest copper mines from the 7th century until it closed in 1992) collapsed in 1687 resulting in a hole 1.5 km in diameter [wikipedia.org] right next to the town. (Miraculously, nobody was injured because it occured during one of their few holidays).

        Here's a pic [tinypic.com] I
    • Probably not even remotely possible due to its size, but a similar problem seems to have been created in Kiruna, in Sweden. The town sits on top of the world's largest iron ore mine, and the mine has created a large cavity under the town.

      Sweden? Trouble? I think this guy was responsible: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emil_i_L%C3%B6nneberga [wikipedia.org]

      I have only seen him as this guy though: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michel_aus_L%C3%B6nneberga [wikipedia.org]

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday June 04, 2010 @11:44AM (#32459184) Journal
      I suspect, in practice, there will be a certain amount of moving going on(of the "run screaming" variety, if not a formal program.)

      The tricky thing is, though, that moving large numbers of people is actually pretty difficult, and has a history of not working out very well, especially in areas where resources are slim, or governance isn't brilliant.. Moving slightly under 20K people, as part of a formal program, in a country with a GDP per capita of ~$36,000, is a pain in the ass, and won't be cheap; but is doable.

      Moving 2 million(or even a substantial fraction thereof), in a country with a GDP per capita of ~$2,700 could get ugly. Like "squalid children with big eyes huddled under sodden tarps in disease-infested refugee camps" ugly.

      While the occasional sinkhole is scary and dramatic, the human costs of staying put and paying closer attention to hydrology, and possibly dealing with the occasional sinkhole incident, are almost certainly lower than trying to move on that scale.
      • by Cheeko (165493) on Friday June 04, 2010 @11:56AM (#32459362) Homepage Journal

        Having just gotten back from Guatemala, you already see a fair amount of the "squalid children with big eyes huddled under sodden tarps" even if not in the urban centers.

        The country has some pretty significant poverty/living condition issues and the city is one of the BETTER parts of the country. Any sort of relocation project is entirely impossible given the finances and state of the nation.

        The issue really is that any sort of infrastructure project might be equally crippled. This in many ways reminds of the situation in Haiti prior to the earthquake. They know they are in a hazardus environment, but the lack of ability to implement anything in terms of building code or infrastructure programs means that prayer and luck are the only options.

      • by timeOday (582209) on Friday June 04, 2010 @12:38PM (#32459830)

        While the occasional sinkhole is scary and dramatic, the human costs of staying put and paying closer attention to hydrology, and possibly dealing with the occasional sinkhole incident, are almost certainly lower than trying to move on that scale.

        I agree relocating en masse is unlikely. There has to be some way to map this. If we can find oil deposits under a mile of water and another mile of rock, there must be a way to do this. Maybe ground penetrating radar. [wikipedia.org] Perhaps total collapse is preceded by depressions that can be tracked over time with synthetic aperture radar [thepanamanews.com]. There must be a way.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Probably not even remotely possible due to its size, but a similar problem seems to have been created in Kiruna, in Sweden. The town sits on top of the world's largest iron ore mine, and the mine has created a large cavity under the town. They are moving everything, in some cases, literally brick by brick.

      That sounds like an aweful lot of bork.

  • Errr... yeah (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DavidR1991 (1047748) on Friday June 04, 2010 @11:12AM (#32458704) Homepage

    The article's title (Don't call it a sinkhole) is certainly on the money. I was shocked. If you haven't read/looked at the article, do. I was expecting, you know, a little crater thing or something. This is far, far beyond that. It is literally a massive cylindrical hole. It's amazing.

    • by jgagnon (1663075)

      I know I'd move away if given the chance. That thing is HUGE.

    • Re:Errr... yeah (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Random2 (1412773) on Friday June 04, 2010 @11:21AM (#32458852) Journal

      The worst part is it's depth, so the land looks safe to build on; while in reality it is far more dangerous.

    • Re:Errr... yeah (Score:4, Insightful)

      by linguizic (806996) on Friday June 04, 2010 @11:27AM (#32458956)
      Yeah the picture of the piping feature is quite impressive, however the article actually sucks at explaining why these features happen in the first place. It's the equivalent of writing a story about the the Winter Park Sinkhole [wikipedia.org] and merely stating that it's what happens when you build a town on top of limestone. Ironically, the article explains how sinkholes happen better than it does piping features.
      • by Pharmboy (216950)

        I agree the article suxors, and the image is insanely awesome. At first glance, by brain was saying "this is a photoshop'ed image, no such thing exists in nature". It is just too perfect a cylinder, which makes it all the more disturbing. My question is: where the hell is the material that is missing? Has no one dropped a camera down the hole yet? I don't think they are going to understand what is going on until they see the bottom of the hole. Is it a large chasm? Does the hole stay perfectly cylindr

        • It's that damned particle accelorator. They created a mini-black hole, and it escaped to Guatemala City. THAT's where all the material went!

          • It's that damned particle accelorator. They created a mini-black hole, and it escaped to Guatemala City. THAT's where all the material went!

            I would vote for this [starwars.com]

    • Re:Errr... yeah (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Tapewolf (1639955) on Friday June 04, 2010 @11:44AM (#32459182)
      I've seen the picture before, but only by clicking on the one in the article to get a higher-res version do I finally think I understand what it is I'm seeing.

      See, there was this darker bit at the bottom that you couldn't make out properly, I figured it was an artifact of the image, or a heap of black stuff at the bottom. When it first went around the office, people were saying 'Why can't you see the bits of the building at the bottom?'
      Now that I can see it more clearly, it seems to me that the brown bit is the crust, and the black bit is a hole into a fuck-off big cavern, which could quite easily be as big as the rest of the picture, if not much of the town.

    • by dpilot (134227)

      The picture looked to me as if the Mole Man attacked, and the FF were out of town. The walls looked practically vertical.

    • by Rogerborg (306625)
      Agreed. I skipped this when it went through the regular news cycle, but now that I finally look, wow, it's astonishing. I got vertigo just looking at it, and now it's giving me Lovecroftian wiggins thinking that the "solid" ground under us is just a fragile shell. Urgh.
    • That's not a sinkhole, that's a Emergence Hole [wikia.com]. Someone better toss a grenade in there ASAP before the Locusts Horde starts streaming out!
  • by Drakkenmensch (1255800) on Friday June 04, 2010 @11:15AM (#32458760)
    Don't do it.
  • Flikr (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 04, 2010 @11:16AM (#32458774)

    The full size version of that photo thats always on the front page of this story is on flikr:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/gobiernodeguatemala/4657053554/sizes/l/

    Amazing, it looks like something out of a scifi movie. Did the death star missfire?

  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Friday June 04, 2010 @11:18AM (#32458816)
    Just put giant parachutes on all the buildings.
    • Better: have everyone wear stunt harnesses at all times. If the ground below you collapses, you are left there dangling where the sidewalk used to be.

  • Centralia (Score:5, Interesting)

    by adeft (1805910) on Friday June 04, 2010 @11:19AM (#32458826)
    Here in PA we have a town called Centralia that is over an active burning coal fire. I believe it has been burning for over 50 years. The town was considered unfit to live in and everyone was encouraged to move. There are still some stragglers remaining, I believe the population is about 5 people. You can still walk/drive through it, but at your own risk as sink holes are a huge issue. If you can ignore the rediculous pop-ups pictures of what a zombie apocalypse might look like here [bored-night.com]
    • by Selfbain (624722)
      I believe that town was the basis for the game Silent Hill too.
    • by dpilot (134227)

      When I was about 5 (almost 50 years ago) we were visiting relatives, and they took us to see where a coal mine had been buring underground for years. The ground was warm and slightly smelly, but that's about as far as I remember. Most of my memories of that are seeing family slides and hearing stories. The relatives were in the Altoona area, though.

  • It's the Rise of the Silver Surfer!!!

    • yea.. finally a reference!

      Also Fringe would work.

      I thought this sinkhole looked more structured than normal. I had thought there was an underground parking facility which sunk along with the building on top. That could explain the smooth, sheer and cylindrical walls, but I guess there's a more ominous explanation.

      Interestingly the article says there's hope if they manage their water/sewers properly.

  • by GungaDan (195739) on Friday June 04, 2010 @11:21AM (#32458866) Homepage

    Goatse recently moved to Guatemala City.

  • Looks like the holes the silver surfer drilled in the last Fantastic Four Movie....
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 04, 2010 @11:23AM (#32458894)

    Any chance a large amount of oil would fix things?

  • by bobdotorg (598873) on Friday June 04, 2010 @11:25AM (#32458916)

    That huge gaping hole that swallowed your neighbor? That's not a geological bug, it's a 'feature'.

  • by Midnight Thunder (17205) on Friday June 04, 2010 @11:25AM (#32458918) Homepage Journal

    I think we have just found the entrance to middle earth. Does anyone see any dinosaurs or dragons down there?

  • There were all of those holes appearing in the alternate world.
  • by imgod2u (812837) on Friday June 04, 2010 @11:30AM (#32458988) Homepage

    My ex made a /. headline!

  • My mother-in-law is in Guatemala?

  • It sounds like he's saying that the city is on top of a layer of volcanic material, which is on top of plain-old dirt. And the dirt is washing away underneath... which sounds like a massive freaking problem...

  • Some good pictures (Score:4, Informative)

    by InsprdInsnty (1793100) on Friday June 04, 2010 @11:40AM (#32459126)
    Here's some interesting photos of the area http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2010/06/a_rough_week_for_guatemala.html [boston.com]
  • Lets fill this thing with our corrupt career politicians and lawyers, I know the hole isn't big enough - but its a start!
  • Have you seen the pictures? It looks awesome. Sure it killed some kids, and that sucks, but usually interesting geological features are horribly inconvenient to get to. Here you can have a chalupa mid-ride down. Basement floor #30 would be a classy bar called Satan's hollow.
  • by dorkinson (1615103) on Friday June 04, 2010 @11:51AM (#32459280)
    A group of Iranian visitors inspecting the hole claimed that it was "madness", but they were quickly dealt with.
  • by noidentity (188756) on Friday June 04, 2010 @11:57AM (#32459370)
    Learning about this "piping feature" that could happen almost anywhere in the city, I suddenly feel that my past SimCity experiences have been missing something. Having a hole open up randomly in a SimCity, swallowing buildings and power poles. Awesome! Be sure to give it a keyboard shortcut, because I want to use it a lot.
  • by RevWaldo (1186281) on Friday June 04, 2010 @12:16PM (#32459598)
    All the other mayors said I was daft to build a city on top of ash, but I built it all the same, just to show 'em!

    .
  • by Frederic54 (3788) on Friday June 04, 2010 @12:20PM (#32459658) Journal
    There is a couple of pictures of the "sinkhole" there, and especially one of the bottom, it seems there is a big cave

    http://www.csmonitor.com/CSM-Photo-Galleries/In-Pictures/Guatemala-sinkhole/(photo)/2 [csmonitor.com]
  • by denn1s (1517951) on Friday June 04, 2010 @12:45PM (#32459922)
    I'm from Guatemala. This is actually the second (and smaller) sinkhole. The first one was located not too far away, http://conred.gob.gt/galeria/fotos/fotografias-de-incidentes-1969-2009/640x480Hundimiento%20Barrio%20San%20Antonio%20Zona%206%20102%202007.JPG/image_preview [conred.gob.gt] and happened last year. However, earth just doesn't open, first huge rumbling sounds begin, then, after a couple of weeks, earth opens. Also, we have already pinpointed possible new sinkhole locations, one which is barely 200mts from the last one. Now is just a matter of time to see if the government does something, which is unlikely.
  • by NicknamesAreStupid (1040118) on Friday June 04, 2010 @01:05PM (#32460182)
    This is amazing, and the implications are epic and nightmarish for anyone sleeping in that city. That said, then what the hell is at the bottom of that hole? The pictures do not tell the story. I gotta know. Anybody with a few hundred feet of rope and a wench want to drop me into it?
  • by PowerEdge (648673) on Friday June 04, 2010 @03:22PM (#32462312)
    When I see that picture, I am imagining a Guatemalan who just divided by zero and jumps into the hole exclaiming in their best Buzz Light-year voice: "To infinity and beyooooond!!!"

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