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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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  • 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.

  • Re:Why the wait? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by maxume ( 22995 ) on Friday June 04, 2010 @11:20AM (#32458838)

    Perhaps it is just news to you?

  • 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.

  • 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: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 [] 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 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 Bakkster ( 1529253 ) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .nam.retskkaB.> on Friday June 04, 2010 @12:05PM (#32459480)

    He said the intelligent thing to do, not realistic.

    It would be the 'best' thing, but as it concerns humans, which are emotional and irrational beings, it's highly unlikely.

  • Re:Errr... yeah (Score:2, Insightful)

    by perryizgr8 ( 1370173 ) on Friday June 04, 2010 @12:29PM (#32459752)
    and its so nearly perfect that your mind screams "PHOTOSHOP!!!!!!!".
  • by onkelonkel ( 560274 ) on Friday June 04, 2010 @12:40PM (#32459856)
    "Better to disperse them back to subsistence farming; at least that's SOME living, rather than NO living."

    This may not be true. I remember learning about England during the Industrial Revolution. Hordes of people flocking into the cities to work endless hours for low wages in dirty, dangerous mills. Somebody asked "If it was so horrible for the factory workers why did they all go there" The teacher made the point that as bad as the factories were, it was still better than farming. Farmers worked as many hours or more than the factory workers, and the conditions were often just as dangerous. On top of that weather, disease and pests could wipe out your crops and leave you with nothing and you would starve. In the mills, as long as you worked you could feed your family; on the farms you could work hard and still starve.
  • Re:sinkhole (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 04, 2010 @12:49PM (#32459978)
    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)...

    Yup. Them Southerners done best know how to talked.
  • by DragonWriter ( 970822 ) on Friday June 04, 2010 @01:03PM (#32460150)

    If you don't know what Goatse is you don't want to know

    The first part of that sentence is superfluous, since if you do know what goatse is, you still don't want to know.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Friday June 04, 2010 @01:21PM (#32460380) Journal
    Depends on where on the priorities list it falls, I suspect. In pretty much all societies, things happen according to how much people care, not by catering to the most miserable first, and working up from there.

    Now, all that makes no difference if there isn't some relatively cheap way; but I have to imagine that detecting the difference between solid rock and unstable loose fill in the top hundred meters or so is probably about the easiest Reflection Seismology problem that you'll run into in the real world. Might have to bum some supercomputer time; but you'll be way behind the difficultly curve compared to the reflection seismology problems that the oil guys are doing all the time.

    The second question, of course, is whether these unstable patches are fixable in some cheap way. Knowing which half of the capital you have to evacuate is only incrementally more helpful than knowing that you have to evacuate half the capital. If, on the other hand, it turns out that you can just drill a well(ie. basic water-well drilling tech, cheap and widely available) and then pump in some cement, that might actually be economically practical, compared to the alternatives.
  • Re:Hey wait, idea! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sorak ( 246725 ) on Friday June 04, 2010 @01:28PM (#32460472)

    Any chance a large amount of oil would fix things?

    No, but I'm unfamiliar with Guatemalan politics. Which party do we blame for this?

  • by Scrameustache ( 459504 ) on Friday June 04, 2010 @03:11PM (#32462126) Homepage Journal

    There is a couple of pictures of the "sinkhole" there, and especially one of the bottom, it seems there is a big cave []

    THANK YOU, thank you, thank you!

    I've been looking for a better view, and wondering where that big slice of earth went.

"What the scientists have in their briefcases is terrifying." -- Nikita Khrushchev