That Sinking Feeling

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The number of gaping holes opening up suddenly of late has been not only astounding, but downright dangerous.

When a block-long section of a Baltimore street collapsed on April 30, 2014, cars went sliding down an embankment onto railroad tracks and forced the evacuation of several homes.

Ten weeks earlier, the showroom floor at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky collapsed and swallowed eight classic cars.

These are just the latest in a series of earth-shaking events making headlines and scaring the daylights out of those of us living in otherwise peaceful and supposedly “rock solid” neighborhoods.

Officially, sinkholes form when limestone or other soft rock such as sandstone beneath the ground is worn away and the surface collapses into it. However, the term is now applied much more widely and often means that someone has been taking too much out of the ground and leaving a big empty space behind.

One of the most dramatic of recent sinkholes is the monster in Louisiana that is currently eating a swamp. Nature abhors a vacuum, and when the salt dome beneath the swamp was hollowed out, swamp water began rushing in. Trees were gobbled up in a matter of seconds and the residents of the small town next to the swamp had to high tail it out fast.

Menacing as they may be, sinkholes have always held a certain fascination for us humans. When a sinkhole opens up, there is usually a crowd gawking at it within moments. However, there is a darker side to sinkholes, such as the 100 foot sinkhole that opened up beneath a Florida home and sucked a man down to his doom.

I think that one of the world’s most sinister sinkholes is in Chichen Itza. This sinkhole, or cenote, is called Cenote Sagrada and was used by the Mayans as a sacrifice pit. Over 100 human remains have been found in this abyss, most of them belonging to children. Dedicated to a rain god, the Mayans undoubtedly felt that a sacrifice or two would help to relieve a dry spell.

To make the situation even more uncomfortable, sinkholes are now opening up not only in limestone (karst) regions, but in places where none have been seen before. Blame is being placed on the fact that water is being sucked out of aquifers at an enormous rate for agriculture and other uses, such as fracking or oil and natural gas drilling.

Whatever the cause, I’m keeping my bug out bag handy by the door, just in case.

A new Insight submitted by L.E.


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Lex Cavemen

LEX is the scientist. He is obsessed with understanding why and how the world around him works the way it does.

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