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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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  • 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.
  • by Pojut ( 1027544 ) on Friday June 04, 2010 @11:14AM (#32458726) Homepage

    I think you are confusing it with this [].

  • 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 []
  • 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 thijsh ( 910751 ) on Friday June 04, 2010 @11:45AM (#32459200) Journal
    I think you are confusing it with this []... look at the photo, if any feature on the earth ever looked like a gate to hell it's this fiery pit. :-)
  • 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.
  • Re:Centralia (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 04, 2010 @12:09PM (#32459518)

    I went there with a friend at night. It was pretty cool, you would walk along highways that were abandoned, large cracks spewing smoke and steam. Looked much cooler at night than the link pictures suggest. The highways would just end in a section of brush.

  • 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. [] Perhaps total collapse is preceded by depressions that can be tracked over time with synthetic aperture radar []. There must be a way.

  • Re:Centralia (Score:3, Interesting)

    by thms ( 1339227 ) on Friday June 04, 2010 @12:40PM (#32459854)

    While we are talking about unusual man-made geological features, Hell's Gate [] should not be omitted.

    It is essentially a big crater in Uzbekistan where natural gas has been burning for decades. Back when it formed they ignited the gas. From a current perspective that still makes sense, as burning it in this case converts methane which has a several times larger warming potential than CO2. Underground coal of course is just the opposite and given they have been burning so long I assume it is beyond current tech to extinguish them other than the very costly way of dumping tons of concrete into the ground.

  • 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?
  • Re:sinkhole (Score:4, Interesting)

    by AthanasiusKircher ( 1333179 ) on Friday June 04, 2010 @01:06PM (#32460194)
    Oh, by the way, I realized some might not be familiar with the number convention of archaic spellings in the OED. Basically, a number "1" means before the year 1100, other numbers mean the succeeding centuries -- 2 = 12th century (1100-1200), 3 = 13th century, etc.

    So, "sinked" in this case is listed as "7 (9 dial.)", which means that it was common in the 17th century (1600-1700) era, and apparently was a dialect form in some regions in the 19th century. Not exactly a popular historical form.

  • what is 200mts? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nuggz ( 69912 ) on Friday June 04, 2010 @01:13PM (#32460260) Homepage

    Did you mean 200m?

  • Re:sinkhole (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gknoy ( 899301 ) <<moc.smetsysizasana> <ta> <yonkg>> on Friday June 04, 2010 @01:36PM (#32460596)

    Also (I wish I'd thought of this before posting), the common-ness of a spelling is orthogonal to its proper-ness. Hundreds of thousands of teens spell "wait" as "w8" and "your" as "ur" (while also abusing the same letters to mean "you are" and "you're"), but I doubt anyone would consider that a proper spelling of the word.

    Now, if you want to say that some particular mangling of a word (like "runned" or "sinked") is used in some dialect, that's OK. The rest of the English-speaking world, though, tends to believe that they don't know how (or want) to speak proper English.

  • by Dogtanian ( 588974 ) on Friday June 04, 2010 @02:17PM (#32461256) Homepage

    I remember learning about England during the Industrial Revolution. [..] 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.

    It's not quite as simple as that. In the case of England during the Industrial Revolution, the inclosures act(s) [] effectively made it more difficult for people to earn a living on the land as they had done previously, and increasingly forced them to move into cities to undertake industrial work. The Marxist interpretation is that the government was effectively legislating people off the land and into the capitalist system.

    I'm not saying that working on the land was an easy option by any means- only that saying that people left it entirely of their own free will is misleading.

    Some may argue the same thing happens nowadays when people leave farming to take up city-based factory work in third world countries- there is an active external force/agenda (e.g. those international bodies wishing to force through capitalist/free-market reforms by tying aid or loans to them) coercing people into the industrial option by making the old way of doing things unworkable.

  • by MoellerPlesset2 ( 1419023 ) on Friday June 04, 2010 @02:39PM (#32461620)
    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 [] right next to the town. (Miraculously, nobody was injured because it occured during one of their few holidays).

    Here's a pic [] I took in Grängesberg (the largest ore body in Sweden second only to Kiruna), whose old town center had to be evacuated in the 1970's. The farther wall of the building has fallen into the open pit (and in the background, one can glimpse the mine office and one of the main shaft elevators). The pit behind it is well over 100 meters deep. That mine was shut down in 1991, and even though it filled at rates of tens of thousands of cubic meters of water per month, it took 18 years to fill up after the pumps were switched off.

    /Unabashed mine geek.
  • by cream wobbly ( 1102689 ) on Friday June 04, 2010 @04:44PM (#32463486)

    Funny thing is, "Pakistan []" is a made up name.

  • by element-o.p. ( 939033 ) on Friday June 04, 2010 @08:37PM (#32465810) Homepage
    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 the upper and middle class. There is an entire community of people living in the *dump* in Guatemala City; generations have spent their entire lives living in the city dump. There's a lower-middle class neighborhood right next to the airport [] that would be a slum in the U.S.; it certainly wasn't the nicest part of Guatemala City, but it wasn't exceptional. And the city isn't small, either. [] It might not be L.A., New York or Chicago, but you're talking about a non-trivial number of people.In other words, while moving the city might be the logical thing to do, you've got to understand that Guatemala is not a particularly prosperous country. Furthermore, Guatemala is pretty much filled with volcanoes. Sure, building a city of two million people on a porous ash field might not be particularly smart, but there isn't much else to build on there, except for the volcanoes themselves. As you can see [], cinder-cone volcanoes (which I believe these are; geologists, please correct me if I'm wrong) have pretty steep sides; you aren't going to move the city there.

    Having said that, there is precedent for moving the city. It wasn't Guatemala City, but the city of Antigua [] in Guatemala had to be moved...but it was a lot smaller than Guatemala City is today.

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