What are sinkholes? Causes and Effects

sinkholes are known as cenote, sink-holes and formed due to natural and anthropogenic activities


Sinkholes are alternatively known as sink-hole, cenote, doline, swallow hole, or swallet.


Sinkholes or sink-holes are often defined as ground holes or depressions. The surface layer gets collapsed and forms a ground depression/hole. The size of sinkholes varies depending upon the causes of sinkholes.

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There are different types of sinkholes. These ground depressions are classified into four categories.

1. Cover-Subsidence Sinkholes: Large surface depression appears when the soil moves downward towards filling voids present in the underlying limestone.

2. Pseudokarst Sinkholes: These sinkholes as name depicst mirror karst sinkholes. The difference is Pseudokarst sinkholes do not appear due to the natural disintegration of rocks but by suffusion or collapse.

3. Solution Sinkholes: Solution sinkholes are also known as dissolution sinkholes. These sinkholes appear due to the dissolution of limestone with water below the soil covering.

4. Cover-Collapse Sinkholes: These sinkholes are also known as dropouts. These are abrupt ground depressions appear due to the massive movement of soil towards the underlying voids in limestone.

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Sinkholes usually appear due to natural causes however human activities are also responsible for large surface depression.

  • Natural Causes: Natural causes of sinkholes include underground water reserves, surface water levels, underlying limestone, etc. The water movement under the ground causes the formation of large surface depression. Acid rain is also responsible for sinkhole formation because the chemicals in rainwater dissolve soil minerals and seep down the soil reaching bedrocks.
  • Human Causes: Human activities cause sinkhole formation. These activities include mining, heavy machinery work, the collapse of drain pipes, waste disposal in the ground, water leakage from pipes, overexploitation of underground reserves, extraction of underground water, etc.

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Sinkholes are catastrophic in nature. The sudden movement of the ground creates problems not for the environment but also for people, natural resources, and the government.

1. Economic Losses: Sinkholes are responsible for huge economic losses. The damage to roads, highways or any building causes economic loss.

2. Infrastructure Destruction: Sinkholes destroy infrastructures such as buildings, residential homes, or any ground structure where they appear.

3. Loss of Lives: Some types of sinkholes are extremely dangerous that result in loss of lives. These sinkholes are sudden and make large surface holes engulfing cars, buses, homes, etc.

4. Environmental Issues: Sinkholes are also a threat to environmental sustainability. The groundwater reserves such as aquifers get polluted due to soil movement.

  • Water quality is degraded by sinkholes.
  • Soil erosions are accelerated due to sinkholes.
  • Surface drainage increases.

5. Residential Displacement: Sinkholes cause destruction of homes which results in residential displacement. People move towards other places due to the formation of ground depressions.

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A sinkhole is a fundamentally natural phenomenon that appears on the ground due to the presence of underground water. Volcanic eruption, geysers/hot springs, geothermal phenomena are few examples of natural hazards that cause massive destruction. Sinkholes are more like a natural hazard. However, humans are now held responsible for almost every ongoing environmental crisis because anthropogenic activities are hazardous to nature.

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