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Earth Science

Giant Guatemalan 'Sinkhole' Is Worse Than We Thought 357

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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  • 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:


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

  • Re:Why the wait? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Nadaka ( 224565 ) on Friday June 04, 2010 @11:17AM (#32458802)


    In 2007, a similar hole opened after a sewage pipe broke pipe just a few blocks from this weekend's disaster. Bonis was part of a team of geologists and engineers brought in to investigate and advise officials on what went wrong.

    "Our recommendation was that this could happen again," he recalled. "When you have water flowing from storm water runoff, a sewage pipe, or any kind of strong flow, it eats away at the loose material. We don't know how long it has to go on before it collapses. But once it starts collapsing, God help us."

  • by swanzilla ( 1458281 ) on Friday June 04, 2010 @11:19AM (#32458828) Homepage

    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.

  • 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]
  • Re:Stupid Question (Score:2, Informative)

    by arkane1234 ( 457605 ) on Friday June 04, 2010 @11:55AM (#32459348) Journal

    The sun isn't man-made and it's circular...
    circular != man-made
    man-made usually equals circular, however.
    I do agree though, when I saw the picture the first time I instantly thought, "PHOTOSHOPPED!" because it looked so out of place and video-game'ish.

  • Re:sinkhole (Score:5, Informative)

    by MBGMorden ( 803437 ) on Friday June 04, 2010 @11:56AM (#32459360)

    Actually 'sinked' is more proper/correct, though I no it sounds weird.

    You "no" it sounds weird?

    Somehow I don't think I'll be taking advice on what's more proper/correct from you.

    For what it's worth, a quick glance at Dictionary.com shows no results at all for sinked (and Firefox's spell checker just red-lined it when I typed it), while it clearly identifies sunk as the proper past tense of sink.

  • 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.

  • I live here and... (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 04, 2010 @12:11PM (#32459556)

    the "sinkhole" happened because of the irresponsible leaders we have in the government. If you look at the picture of the sinkhole from above you'll see a that there's a sort of tunnel at the bottom, which forms part of the sewer system. underneath that factory that sinked there was a vertical cylindrical (not as big as the hole) acces tunnel to check on the massive sewer, which they didn't reinforce or took care of properly, the water started filtraring arround it and washing the way outwards to form the gigantic cylindrical hole, it's not likely to happen like that all over Guatemala, and your average sinkhole has the same probability as in any other city in the same circumstances, which is still high but heck, were are you safe these days...

  • 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 Anonymous Coward on Friday June 04, 2010 @12:21PM (#32459666)

    There are similar problems in the Ruhr-valley area in Germany, the main center of the German coal and steal industry since the 1870s (with a strong decline in the last decades). There are areas where the surface sank by ~20 meters in the last 100 years. Here is a map showing the hight difference between a survey from 1892 and today:


    The corresponding article (http://www.lwl.org/LWL/Kultur/Westfalen_Regional/Wirtschaft/Bergbau/Bergsenkungen , in German) says that (apart from damages to buildings, which produce anual costs of 70 Million Euros) it takes a large effort to ensure that the water from rain and rivers does not flood the areas (which are often densely populated). One river (the Emscher) is enclosed by up to 10 meter high dikes for 75km to ensure that the water flows through the sunken area.

  • Re:Errr... yeah (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 04, 2010 @12:26PM (#32459706)

    That is correct. In essence you get to peek into a cavern of, as of yet, unknown size. However, you can safely bet that the cavern is huge.

    I do think life should have a bit of thrill and adventure, but if I lived anywhere in a ten mile radius of that hole I'd run away!

  • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Friday June 04, 2010 @12:30PM (#32459764) Homepage

    Turkmenistan? Wikipedia is making up country names now?

    So must the CIA [cia.gov], the BBC [bbc.co.uk], and even their own embassy [turkmenistanembassy.org] and government [turkmenistan.gov.tm]. They've got their own TLD [wikipedia.org] for crying out loud.

    Seriously, listen to the news or something. Read a book. It's an actual country.

  • 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.
  • Re:sinkhole (Score:5, Informative)

    by AthanasiusKircher ( 1333179 ) on Friday June 04, 2010 @12:57PM (#32460088)

    First of all...whoosh.

    I don't get the joke here either. Are you claiming "sinked" is correct or not? Did you intend to say "no" instead of "know" or not? I think you need [sarcasm] tags.

    Secondly, I would recommend a real (e.g. physical), unabridged dictionary. However if you want you want to use an online dictionary I would recommend thefreedictionary.com as it is far more expansive on pronunciation.

    Actually, the best unabridged dictionary in the world is the Oxford English Dictionary, which is available online (for a subscription fee, though). It's better than the paper form of the OED, which isn't updated as frequently.

    The -ed in past tense verbs becomes more common in ares that have been speaking English for a longer period of time. For example, in the Southern US (where they have been speaking English for a long time), and in England (where English was invented) many verbs are in the -ed format: swimmed, runned, stinged, waked, sinked, etc.

    I'm going to have to call BS on this part. The OED is the standard authority of English in England. Under "sink" it lists:

    Pa. tense sank, sunk. pa. pple. sunk, sunken.

    The OED is notorious for being a bit permissive in such matters, being a fairly descriptive dictionary. If "sinked" were a common form, it would be listed as such. Furthermore, even in the historical list of forms, "sinked" comes up short:

    pa. tense. {alpha}. sing. 1, 3-4 sanc, 5 sanck; 4-5 sanke, 4-5, 8- sank. pl. 5-7 sanke, 6 sancke, 9- sank. {beta}. sing. 1 sonc, 4 sonk. pl. 3-5 sonken, 5-6 sonke, 6 soncke, 6-7 soonke. {gamma}. pl. 1 suncon, 3 sunken, sunke, 5 sunkyn; also sing. 6 suncke, 6-7 sunke, sunck, 7- sunk. {delta}. 5 synked, 7 (9 dial.) sinked. pa. pple. {alpha}. 1 suncen, 3 i-sunken (Orm. sunnkenn), 3- sunken, 4 sunkin, -yn, 6 suncken; 4-7 sunke, 6-7 sunck(e, 7- sunk. {beta}. 4-5 sonken, 5 sonkyn; Sc. 5 sonkine, -yne, 6 sonkin; 4 i-sonke, 6 son(c)ke, soonke, 7 soonk. {gamma}. 9 sank, dial. sinken.

    Here "sinked" is only listed as a relatively minor historical dialect form, hardly what is "proper/correct" as you claim. Moreover, it doesn't appear to be that historically important, and certainly not the most common "old" form.

  • Re:sinkhole (Score:5, Informative)

    by Gulthek ( 12570 ) on Friday June 04, 2010 @01:03PM (#32460160) Homepage Journal

    Hey now, you can't "whoosh" and argue at the same time. You either agree to pretend that your original post was a joke (whoosh) or you can continue to futilely argue.

    Luckily I happen to work at an institution with a subscription to the OED. Let's look shall we?

    c1250 Gen. & Ex. 3775 Alle he sunken e ere wi-in, Wi wifes, and childre, and hines-kin.

    Yeah, that 1250 is the year the quote was written. This usage is also specifically referring to sunk into the earth.

    All told, their examples for the word "sink" have 55 uses of the work sunk and 0 of the word sinked. Sinked is listed as an obscure, colloquial use though.

    The argument for centuries has been between sank and sunk, sinked is right out.

    http://www.grammarphobia.com/blogger-blog/2010/01/honey-i-sunk-boat.html [grammarphobia.com]

  • Re:sinkhole (Score:3, Informative)

    by mdda ( 462765 ) on Friday June 04, 2010 @01:19PM (#32460338) Homepage

    > "In England" : swimmed, runned, stinged, waked, sinked, etc.

    Not the England where I'm from...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 04, 2010 @01:24PM (#32460424)

    It sounds like it wasn't "soil" as we would normally think of, like topsoil....more like an airy layer of volcanic ash, fluffed up like a merengue or souffle, more air than solid matter. As a geology major, if I were looking it up, I'd search on 'volcanic tuff' or 'tufa'. I know nothing beyond what was in the summary, but unless these types of deposits undergo a lot of geological changes and become pretty solid because of heat/pressure, it's like a house of cards collapsing - the particles were stacked with mostly air between, and then the water washed them loose.

    For remediation, if they're serious about saving lives, they could study the ground for void spaces using ground-penetrating radar (I'm imagining the small units not much bigger than a large lawnmower) pretty quickly, to find the shallower voids that have formed, and get people away from those spots/areas. Larger voids could be searched out by other methods. They should get staff working on control of drainage, and minimize water draining into the ground, ensuring that it drains away from the city. They could put out a grid of GPS sensors and monitor ground subsidence. Of course, who knows how much money and resources will actually be put towards such efforts.

  • by cusco ( 717999 ) <brian@bixby.gmail@com> on Friday June 04, 2010 @05:13PM (#32463844)
    There are too many people to return to subsistence farming. Not only in Guatemala, but just about everywhere today. Sorry to burst your bubble.

    In reality, the whole "back to the land" movement is based on the false premise that today's population is sustainable. It's not. Once the cheap oil runs out and the prices on artificial fertilizers and pesticides rise you're going to see several billion people starve to death and a couple billion more, weakened by hunger, die of simple diseases like TB and diarrhea. Don't even bother bringing up the silly "Well this demonstration organic farm produced almost as much per acre as an industrial farm" argument, because it's not replicable on large scales. The current situation allows organic farms to survive in nice, isolated pockets, protected from pests and diseases by miles of pesticides. Put 100 miles of organic farms next to each other and you'll see crop failures like there used to be in the 19th century. Sorry about that, but that's reality.
  • by John Hasler ( 414242 ) on Friday June 04, 2010 @07:22PM (#32465236) Homepage

    > In all the photos, probably taken at least 12 hours later, if not days, not
    > even an orange cone.

    Look at the first picture. The street is barricaded a block away.

The other line moves faster.