Sinkholes are some of the most interesting features of this amazing planet we live in. They have the power to amaze, to inspire wonder, and even to swallow up entire cities whole. They are a constant reminder that this planet might not be as hospitable as we may think. Nature can be a furious and cruel thing, and the truth is that it’s more powerful than anything we humans can create today. We would do well to learn from these huge sinkholes, and realize that no matter how tall and technologically advanced we build our cities, they could come crumbling down, swallowed into the fiery depths of the Earth.
But just what are sinkholes? They are basically holes in the ground caused by a collapse in the Earth’s atmosphere. But as you will see, some of these massive geological features are much more than mere holes. The most impressive of these sinkholes span mind-boggling diameters, and reach into unbelievable depths. Human activity can also create sinkholes, and these features are called artificial sinkholes. Often, these are caused by mining or other digging processes.
15. The 2007 Guatemala City Sinkhole
In 2007, a massive sinkhole formed in Guatemala City, and it swallowed several houses and an entire section of a city block. It is over 100 meters deep and when it formed, it took 5 people down to their deaths. But this was not a natural incident. It was caused by the rupturing of sewage pipes deep under the ground. A pipe burst, and the surrounding rock, some of it volcanic, eroded rapidly, causing this sinkhole. Some critics have pointed out that the sewage pipe was way past repairs. The sinkhole caused the evacuation of over 1000 people. A no go zone was created around the sinkhole. The entire hole had to be filled with cement and soil, something that cost Guatemala 2.7 million dollars. But as you will read, this would hardly be the last time a sinkhole would strike Guatemala City.
14. The 2010 Guatemala City Sinkhole
In 2010, disaster struck Guatemala City once again. But this time, thankfully, it wasn’t as bad as the first sinkhole that appeared just 3 years prior. But it was still 300 feet deep. And once again, the sinkhole struck an important part of a major city block. But even though it wasn’t as big, this one was much more deadly. 15 people were taken to the depths and their deaths when this sinkhole formed. That was largely because the sinkhole formed right underneath a factory. Again, this was blamed on volcanic rock erosion, as Guatemala City is built primarily on this type of rock. But like the 2007 Guatemala City Sinkhole, suspicions were once again raised about the true causes of the incident. Many people still believe that sewage pipes had something to do with this, and their disrepair was again touted as a possible cause for this disaster.
13. Great Blue Hole – Belize
One of the most famous sinkholes is the Great Blue Hole in Belize. This is a popular destination for scuba divers, and it’s an underwater sinkhole. But just how did this massive hole get here? It was actually formed during ice age glaciation, a gradual process that started 150,000 years ago, when the sea level was much lower. It is almost 1000 feet wide, and over 300 feet deep. It was made famous by explorer Jacques Cousteau, who scuba dived throughout the hole in the 1970s. Although it’s become a massive tourist destination, it’s anything but safe. It’s incredibly dark as you get into the depth of the hole, and you need to be an expert scuba diver to attempt it. In addition, sharks have made this hole their home, so you really need to be on your guard if you want to dive the Great Blue Hole.
12. Red Lake – Croatia
Red Lake is another marvelous sinkhole and is colossal in size and spectacle. It’s a whopping 530 meters deep, and it’s not fully explored. It is speculated that this sinkhole was caused when the ceiling of a massive cave collapsed. Just recently, in May 2017, it was announced that a French diver named Frederic Swiercyznsky claimed to have found the bottom of the Red Lake, something that was never before accomplished. After emerging from the 24m deep lake, he said “I am happy that I successfully completed the dive. It was a very interesting experience. It was cold and visibility was not good. In the end, everything worked out fine, I feel excellent.” He also claims to have taken video footage of interesting marine creatures that live at the very bottom of the lake.
11. Cave Of Swallows – Mexico
Travel through a relatively small, 62 meter wide hole, and you will drop over 1,200 feet, all the way down to the bottom of a spectacular cave. As well as being one of the most well-known sinkholes in the world, it’s also the largest cave shaft known to man. This cave and sinkhole is amazing because it lets people see what’s really inside those sinkholes. Often, we only see the mouths of these sinkholes on the surface, and what’s actually inside them is somewhat of a mystery. But take a trip down into the Cave of Swallows, and you’ll discover the secret of what’s inside your average sinkhole. Or, if you’re feeling more adventurous, you can base jump all the way to the bottom, flying just like the flocks of birds that call this cave their home, and give the sinkhole its name.
10. Sotano Del Barro – Mexico
Hidden in the impressive Sierra Gorda of Mexico lies the Sotano Del Barro. Translated into English, it means “basement of clay.” It reaches an impressive 450 meters in depth, and almost as much in width. It’s a truly unique sinkhole as it’s located right in the middle of a mountain. It looks almost like a meteor smashed into the side of the mountain, but in truth it was caused by something than happened far below. Tectonic movements created a huge vertical fissure called “El Abra,” and this sinkhole was created by the same factors. This sinkhole opened up 1.5 million years ago, so the only things that would have been affected by it would have been creatures that lived during the Cenozoic period. Nowadays, pumas and other wild creatures can be found roaming around this area.
9. Winter Park Sinkhole – Florida
One sinkhole that hit a little too close to home was the Winter Park Sinkhole in Florida, USA. This massive sinkhole opened up in 1981, causing millions of dollars worth of damage and swallowing up several homes. Luckily, the formation of this sinkhole was very gradual, and people were able to evacuate long before they were dragged down to their deaths. Just nine years prior to the sinkhole opening up, in 1972, an agricultural expert warned the mayor that overdevelopment combined with drawing up too much groundwater could result in a seriously disastrous sinkhole. Obviously, no one listened to his warnings. The sinkhole became somewhat of tourist attraction, with people coming from all over America and even the world to see the sinkhole with their own eyes. Eventually, it was turned into a lake, and rumor has it that people dump their unwanted vehicles in it.
8. Kingsley Lake – Florida
Florida is full of sinkholes, but Kingsley lake might just be its most impressive one. It’s said to be the oldest, highest, and definitely the most circular. In fact, it’s such a perfect circle that pilots call it the “silver dollar lake.” This sinkhole formed many millions of years ago, during the Pleistocene era, and it was one of the first parts of Florida to emerge above sea level after the waters receded. It’s a whopping 2 miles across, and 90 feet deep. Legend has it that one young cavalry officer, Captain Kingsley, was surrounded by natives and had to swim his horse across the lake to escape. It’s been called Lake Kingsley ever since. But another less romantic story, which is more believable, tells that the lake was named after a famous slave trader. Today, the lake is a popular recreational destination.
7. Harwood Hole – New Zealand
Harwood Hole is New Zealand’s deepest vertical shaft. Starting off as a 50 meter wide hole, it drops into a stunning 183 meter cave shaft. In total, this sinkhole is 357 meters deep. Once you get further down into the cave, it becomes quite intricate, with natural tunnels connecting with another famous cave called Starlight Cave. It’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in New Zealand, and many people come from all over the world to descend to this caves depths by rappelling down a rope. There used to be a massive stream that ran through the cave, and thereby formed the Karst process that formed the cave. Karst processes are the erosion of rock by water, and it’s one of the most common ways sinkholes are formed. This is yet another stunning sinkhole that people love to explore, and a great way to get an inside look at they mysteries of a sinkhole.
6. Berezniki Sinkhole – Russia
The Berezniki sinkhole is what happens when you decide to build a city over an old Soviet mine. As you might have guessed, this sinkhole is 100% caused by people, and not a natural occurrence. As it turns out, there are many sinkholes in the city of Berezniki, but this one is probably the most impressive. One has been nicknamed “The Grandfather” by the locals, but new ones are popping up every day, including this one near a school. The school had to be abandoned, and it really shows just how serious the situation is over there. The cause is thought to be improper or lack of filling the old Soviet mine. Relocation of the entire city has been considered, but so far it seems like the sinkholes are limited to just one side of the city, the side where the old mine once was. Still, there are widespread fears that the sinkhole could spread.
5. Gypsum Sinkhole – Utah
Hidden in the desert of the Cathedral Valley in Utah lies the Gypsum sinkhole. It’s relatively small, with an opening just 15 meters wide, and a depth of 60 meters. Still, you wouldn’t want to fall in there. It’s a somewhat eerie and unsettling sight, considering it’s surrounded by huge monoliths that are so common in this valley. Walking around this area must feel like being on an alien planet. Groundwater was dissolved, burying a gypsum plug several millions of years ago. The sinkhole is surrounded by old dikes where lava once flowed, caused by the eruption of the nearby Thousand Lake Mountains 20 million years ago. The photographer in this photo is actually breaking one of the park rules, as you’re not supposed to stand too close to the edge. It’s incredibly unstable, and one false step could leave you hurtling towards your death, 200 feet down.
4. Vouliagmeni Sinkhole – Greece
We head back underwater for one of the most dangerous sinkholes in the world. Also known as “The Devil’s Well,” this sinkhole near Vouliagmeni, has claimed the lives of many amateur divers. That’s why it’s known as the Devil’s well, because people go down there and fail to come back out. Even so, it’s still a very popular destination for scuba diving adventures, and it’s quite an impressive sinkhole. It twists and turns as it goes deeper, and although it’s only 32 meters deep, it stretches 150 meters in a massive tunnel. The divers who died down there probably got lost or disoriented, and ran out of oxygen. People are still trying to chart this sinkhole to this day, and it hasn’t been fully explored.
3. Xiaozhai Tiankeng – China
It’s about time I showed you the world’s deepest sinkhole. As you can see by the pictures, Xiaozhai Tiankeng is seriously huge. Also known as “Heavenly Pit,” it’s truly a sight to behold. It’s about 537 meters wide, and a whopping 662 meters deep. This was created by a flowing underground river, which eroded away carbonate rock until the cave’s roof collapsed, leaving this massive hole. This sinkhole was known since the ancient times, as it was mentioned in ancient Chinese texts. There is an incredible amount of biodiversity in the sinkhole, and the rare clouded leopard can be seen roaming around the bottom of the sinkhole. This is just one of many sinkholes in China. Can you imagine if one of these opened up underneath a major city? It would undoubtedly kill thousands of people…
2. Highway 101 – Oregon
Thankfully, a sinkhole the size of Xiaozhai Tiankeng hasn’t opened up under a major city, but there have been sinkholes, and some of them are pretty big. Some would say it’s only a matter of time until we get a huge one. Authorities called this sinkhole that opened up in Oregon a “monster,” but the truth is they were extremely lucky it wasn’t bigger. It’s 60 feet deep and opened up in 2016. Authorities were alarmed that it would just keep growing – so much so that highway 101 had to be shut down. There was no other option – this sinkhole swallowed up the entire road. Imagine if you had been driving along and suddenly the road just collapses beneath you? The sinkhole was caused by heavy rains which pounded the coast of Oregon, and more than one sinkhole was observed.
1. IHOP Sinkhole – Mississippi
Disaster struck the parking lot of a Mississippi IHOP as a sinkhole swallowed up 12 cars in an instant. Imagine for a second you’ve just eaten a nice pancake breakfast, only to go outside and find your car swallowed up by the planet. I would be shaking my fist at the sky! This sinkhole formed in 2015, and it was 375 feet long and 30 feet deep. Luckily, no one was injured. It turns out that this sinkhole was caused once again by human activity, as you can see the hole formed over an old abandoned culvert. Overdevelopment in the area caused the thin layer of rock supporting the cars to collapse. Whoever built this car park clearly didn’t think things through. A spokesperson for IHOP said, “The cause of the sinkhole is still under investigation, and our primary concern continues to be the safety of our guests and team members. The restaurant will remain closed until all necessary repairs have been completed.”