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Giant Guatemalan 'Sinkhole' Is Worse Than We Thought

kdawson posted more than 3 years ago | from the series-of-pipes dept.

Earth 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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357 comments

Piping Feature? No... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32458626)

How about "Passage to Hell!"

Re:Piping Feature? No... (2, Interesting)

Pojut (1027544) | more than 3 years ago | (#32458726)

I think you are confusing it with this [travelpod.com].

Re:Piping Feature? No... (5, Interesting)

thijsh (910751) | more than 3 years ago | (#32459200)

I think you are confusing it with this [wikipedia.org]... look at the photo, if any feature on the earth ever looked like a gate to hell it's this fiery pit. :-)

Re:Piping Feature? No... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32459260)

Turkmenistan? Wikipedia is making up country names now?

Look on the bright side (3, Funny)

IndustrialComplex (975015) | more than 3 years ago | (#32458642)

Looks like the city nearly doubled its surface area!

Re:Look on the bright side (5, Funny)

Barrinmw (1791848) | more than 3 years ago | (#32458678)

This was the perfect opportunity for him to make a pun. "There is an excellent potential for this to happen again. It could happen almost anywhere in the city.' Should have been "I have a sinking feeling that this could happen again."

Re:Look on the bright side (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32459212)

The problem is he might get buried alive.

Re:Look on the bright side (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32459236)

I don't think your joke did sunk in.

Re:Look on the bright side (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32459320)

Seal it with concrete and call it a big basement.

Moving the country? (5, Interesting)

MalHavoc (590724) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Re:Moving the country? (2, Informative)

swanzilla (1458281) | more than 3 years ago | (#32458828)

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.

Guatemala != Guatemala City

Thirteen and two million resindents, respectively...either way, your idea is awful.

Re:Moving the country? (4, Insightful)

couchslug (175151) | more than 3 years ago | (#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:Moving the country? (1)

arkane1234 (457605) | more than 3 years ago | (#32459198)

If previous history is any idea of how that kind of thing works, we can just look at African dispersal to less "lifeless" areas to see how much of a battle you get.
"Oh but I live here, this is my home!"
yeah... but... til death do you part...

Re:Moving the country? (4, Insightful)

Bakkster (1529253) | more than 3 years ago | (#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:Moving the country? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32458884)

Been there, but I think they have the situation "slightly" better planned, as they know when which part of the city will be in danger. And have considered hiring a firm to move entire buildings at once.
That aside, the tourist mine is pretty impressive.

Re:Moving the country? (5, Funny)

nightfire-unique (253895) | more than 3 years ago | (#32458906)

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.

I dunno why, but I suddenly pictured a bunch of embarrassed Swedes whistling as they quietly move the town over a few hundred meters.

Re:Moving the country? (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 3 years ago | (#32459122)

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.

Sweden? Trouble? I think this guy was responsible: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emil_i_L%C3%B6nneberga [wikipedia.org]

I have only seen him as this guy though: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michel_aus_L%C3%B6nneberga [wikipedia.org]

Re:Moving the country? (4, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 3 years ago | (#32459184)

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.

Re:Moving the country? (5, Informative)

Cheeko (165493) | more than 3 years ago | (#32459362)

Having just gotten back from Guatemala, you already see a fair amount of the "squalid children with big eyes huddled under sodden tarps" even if not in the urban centers.

The country has some pretty significant poverty/living condition issues and the city is one of the BETTER parts of the country. Any sort of relocation project is entirely impossible given the finances and state of the nation.

The issue really is that any sort of infrastructure project might be equally crippled. This in many ways reminds of the situation in Haiti prior to the earthquake. They know they are in a hazardus environment, but the lack of ability to implement anything in terms of building code or infrastructure programs means that prayer and luck are the only options.

Re:Moving the country? (2, Funny)

IndustrialComplex (975015) | more than 3 years ago | (#32459368)

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.

That sounds like an aweful lot of bork.

Re:Moving the country? (1)

yurtinus (1590157) | more than 3 years ago | (#32459604)

Virginia City, Nevada has similar problems but on a smaller scale. Seems to be rare enough that folks don't worry too much, but a few years ago a collapsed mine sucked up part of the road leading there.

Why the wait? (0, Troll)

jDeepbeep (913892) | more than 3 years ago | (#32458690)

He is just now making this information public? How long has he known about this? Why were the people not informed earlier? TFA states a similar (but smaller) hole opened back in 2007, not too far from this monster.

Re:Why the wait? (4, Informative)

Nadaka (224565) | more than 3 years ago | (#32458802)

RTFA?

In 2007, a similar hole opened after a sewage pipe broke pipe just a few blocks from this weekend's disaster. Bonis was part of a team of geologists and engineers brought in to investigate and advise officials on what went wrong.

"Our recommendation was that this could happen again," he recalled. "When you have water flowing from storm water runoff, a sewage pipe, or any kind of strong flow, it eats away at the loose material. We don't know how long it has to go on before it collapses. But once it starts collapsing, God help us."

Re:Why the wait? (2, Insightful)

maxume (22995) | more than 3 years ago | (#32458838)

Perhaps it is just news to you?

Re:Why the wait? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32459356)

I don't think so, it was news to me too.

Hell hole after all? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32458694)

So ironically the funny sensationalists headlines of hell hole opening in Guatemala might not have been so far off.

Errr... yeah (5, Insightful)

DavidR1991 (1047748) | more than 3 years ago | (#32458704)

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:Errr... yeah (3, Insightful)

Random2 (1412773) | more than 3 years ago | (#32458852)

The worst part is it's depth, so the land looks safe to build on; while in reality it is far more dangerous.

Re:Errr... yeah (3, Insightful)

linguizic (806996) | more than 3 years ago | (#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 [wikipedia.org] 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.

Re:Errr... yeah (1)

Pharmboy (216950) | more than 3 years ago | (#32459266)

I agree the article suxors, and the image is insanely awesome. At first glance, by brain was saying "this is a photoshop'ed image, no such thing exists in nature". It is just too perfect a cylinder, which makes it all the more disturbing. My question is: where the hell is the material that is missing? Has no one dropped a camera down the hole yet? I don't think they are going to understand what is going on until they see the bottom of the hole. Is it a large chasm? Does the hole stay perfectly cylindrical all the way to the bottom? (that would be even more disturbing) While somewhat dangerous, it shouldn't be that hard to get a camera and lights down there, as it is "only" 100 feet deep. (if that makes sense)

Re:Errr... yeah (1)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | more than 3 years ago | (#32459378)

It's that damned particle accelorator. They created a mini-black hole, and it escaped to Guatemala City. THAT's where all the material went!

Re:Errr... yeah (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 3 years ago | (#32459538)

It's that damned particle accelorator. They created a mini-black hole, and it escaped to Guatemala City. THAT's where all the material went!

I would vote for this [starwars.com]

Re:Errr... yeah (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32459100)

It is literally a massive cylindrical hole.

Yeah, but why are we talking about your Mom's twat?

Re:Errr... yeah (4, Interesting)

Tapewolf (1639955) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Re:Errr... yeah (1)

dpilot (134227) | more than 3 years ago | (#32459208)

The picture looked to me as if the Mole Man attacked, and the FF were out of town. The walls looked practically vertical.

Re:Errr... yeah (1)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 3 years ago | (#32459350)

Agreed. I skipped this when it went through the regular news cycle, but now that I finally look, wow, it's astonishing. I got vertigo just looking at it, and now it's giving me Lovecroftian wiggins thinking that the "solid" ground under us is just a fragile shell. Urgh.

Flikr (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32458774)

The full size version of that photo thats always on the front page of this story is on flikr:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/gobiernodeguatemala/4657053554/sizes/l/

Amazing, it looks like something out of a scifi movie. Did the death star missfire?

Re:Flikr (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32459610)

Captain Nero was drilling to the Earth's core to deposit the red matter but the drill was sabotaged before he got any further than this.

Hmmm, a "feature"...right. (0, Troll)

Em Emalb (452530) | more than 3 years ago | (#32458790)

"Feature" like Microsoft's "features"?

Holy hell, that's amazing. Just a giant almost perfect circular hole in the middle of the city. Amazing.

sinkhole (-1, Troll)

Itninja (937614) | more than 3 years ago | (#32458800)

...because "sinkholes" refer to areas where bedrock is solid but has been eaten away by groundwater..

I had no idea that 'sinkhole' had such a specific definition. I thought was just a hole where the ground has sinked.

Re:sinkhole (0)

Zamerick (1372385) | more than 3 years ago | (#32459054)

you mean, "sunk"?

Re:sinkhole (3, Funny)

Itninja (937614) | more than 3 years ago | (#32459234)

Actually 'sinked' is more proper/correct, though I no it sounds weird. Kind of like the last line in To Kill a Mockingbird: "[Atticus] would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning"

Re:sinkhole (4, Informative)

MBGMorden (803437) | more than 3 years ago | (#32459360)

Actually 'sinked' is more proper/correct, though I no it sounds weird.

You "no" it sounds weird?

Somehow I don't think I'll be taking advice on what's more proper/correct from you.

For what it's worth, a quick glance at Dictionary.com shows no results at all for sinked (and Firefox's spell checker just red-lined it when I typed it), while it clearly identifies sunk as the proper past tense of sink.

I have a solution (3, Funny)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 3 years ago | (#32458816)

Just put giant parachutes on all the buildings.

Re:I have a solution (1)

Lord Ender (156273) | more than 3 years ago | (#32458876)

Better: have everyone wear stunt harnesses at all times. If the ground below you collapses, you are left there dangling where the sidewalk used to be.

Centralia (5, Interesting)

adeft (1805910) | more than 3 years ago | (#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 [bored-night.com]

Re:Centralia (1)

dpilot (134227) | more than 3 years ago | (#32459294)

When I was about 5 (almost 50 years ago) we were visiting relatives, and they took us to see where a coal mine had been buring underground for years. The ground was warm and slightly smelly, but that's about as far as I remember. Most of my memories of that are seeing family slides and hearing stories. The relatives were in the Altoona area, though.

Re:Centralia (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Call in the Fantastic Four (2, Funny)

RivenAleem (1590553) | more than 3 years ago | (#32458856)

It's the Rise of the Silver Surfer!!!

Re:Call in the Fantastic Four (1)

OldSoldier (168889) | more than 3 years ago | (#32459258)

yea.. finally a reference!

Also Fringe would work.

I thought this sinkhole looked more structured than normal. I had thought there was an underground parking facility which sunk along with the building on top. That could explain the smooth, sheer and cylindrical walls, but I guess there's a more ominous explanation.

Interestingly the article says there's hope if they manage their water/sewers properly.

Any Stranger on a surfboard in the area? (1)

yogibaer (757010) | more than 3 years ago | (#32458892)

Looks like the holes the silver surfer drilled in the last Fantastic Four Movie....

Hey wait, idea! (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32458894)

Any chance a large amount of oil would fix things?

I think this guy used to be a software dev manager (3, Funny)

bobdotorg (598873) | more than 3 years ago | (#32458916)

That huge gaping hole that swallowed your neighbor? That's not a geological bug, it's a 'feature'.

Re:I think this guy used to be a software dev mana (1)

gyrogeerloose (849181) | more than 3 years ago | (#32459030)

That huge gaping hole that swallowed your neighbor? That's not a geological bug, it's a 'feature'.

Yeah, I figured there was a way to get a Microsoft joke out of this thing if we worked on it hard enough.

Re:I think this guy used to be a software dev mana (1)

arkane1234 (457605) | more than 3 years ago | (#32459304)

Sorry my friend, but Microsoft sadly is not the only company who uses the term "feature".
They also aren't the only company who do coding...

Does no one else see... the Silver Surfer (1)

slowhand (191637) | more than 3 years ago | (#32458930)

The Silver Surfer in all likelihood created this hole. Investigative journalism, where are you?

Easy solution, and I learned it on slashdot (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32458938)

As mentioned in comments here [slashdot.org], volcanic ash makes for stronger concrete. All they need to do is pour a lot of concrete down there and mix it together. Slashdot and an AC save millions of lives again!

Anyone remember the Prisoner miniseries remake? (1)

aristotle-dude (626586) | more than 3 years ago | (#32458960)

There were all of those holes appearing in the alternate world.

Re:Anyone remember the Prisoner miniseries remake? (1)

MrTripps (1306469) | more than 3 years ago | (#32459146)

Heh. I watched that last night and thought the same thing. I think the writers took the term "plot hole" too literally.

this just in, (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32458986)

breaking news, we've come to find out that all of central america and mexico are prehistoric land bridges made of volcanic ash.

Guess that solves the immigrant problem the US is having.

Well this is unusual (4, Funny)

imgod2u (812837) | more than 3 years ago | (#32458988)

My ex made a /. headline!

Re:Well this is unusual (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32459284)

Sinkhole, not stinkhole....

Re:Well this is unusual (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32459514)

And if that works like mine ex-gf, all their country money will disappear through that sinkhole in less than one week...

do I grok this? (1)

Lord Ender (156273) | more than 3 years ago | (#32459016)

It sounds like he's saying that the city is on top of a layer of volcanic material, which is on top of plain-old dirt. And the dirt is washing away underneath... which sounds like a massive freaking problem...

Stupid Question (1)

PhongUK (1301747) | more than 3 years ago | (#32459118)

But why is this hole almost perfectly circular? I was under the impression this wasn't man-made.

Re:Stupid Question (1)

andrea.sartori (1603543) | more than 3 years ago | (#32459254)

It wasn't. It's the Vogons probing the land. They apparently decided to turn Earth into a galactic outlet instead of destroying it.
(Which probably explains way many things happening on Earth lately BTW.)

Re:Stupid Question (2, Informative)

arkane1234 (457605) | more than 3 years ago | (#32459348)

The sun isn't man-made and it's circular...
circular != man-made
man-made usually equals circular, however.
I do agree though, when I saw the picture the first time I instantly thought, "PHOTOSHOPPED!" because it looked so out of place and video-game'ish.

I have an environment friendly solution! (2, Funny)

Phizzle (1109923) | more than 3 years ago | (#32459160)

Lets fill this thing with our corrupt career politicians and lawyers, I know the hole isn't big enough - but its a start!

Eew (-1, Troll)

Rallias Ubernerd (1760460) | more than 3 years ago | (#32459238)

Oh great. Here comes Al Gore comming to say that human kind has caused this. Thanks alot for noticing. I really love paying taxes.

Re:Eew (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32459418)

LOL!111!!1111!! SO FUNNY! Idiot.

Tourists love crazy shit like this (1)

HeckRuler (1369601) | more than 3 years ago | (#32459268)

Have you seen the pictures? It looks awesome. Sure it killed some kids, and that sucks, but usually interesting geological features are horribly inconvenient to get to. Here you can have a chalupa mid-ride down. Basement floor #30 would be a classy bar called Satan's hollow.

Re:Tourists love crazy shit like this (1)

0100010001010011 (652467) | more than 3 years ago | (#32459600)

If the 'ground' is bedrock. This would make for an interesting dwelling. You could build a 10 story building entirely underground.

This is Guatemala City! (5, Funny)

dorkinson (1615103) | more than 3 years ago | (#32459280)

A group of Iranian visitors inspecting the hole claimed that it was "madness", but they were quickly dealt with.

Volcanic ash piping disaster missing from SimCity (2, Interesting)

noidentity (188756) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

I live here and... (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32459556)

the "sinkhole" happened because of the irresponsible leaders we have in the government. If you look at the picture of the sinkhole from above you'll see a that there's a sort of tunnel at the bottom, which forms part of the sewer system. underneath that factory that sinked there was a vertical cylindrical (not as big as the hole) acces tunnel to check on the massive sewer, which they didn't reinforce or took care of properly, the water started filtraring arround it and washing the way outwards to form the gigantic cylindrical hole, it's not likely to happen like that all over Guatemala, and your average sinkhole has the same probability as in any other city in the same circumstances, which is still high but heck, were are you safe these days...

Empathy? (1)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 3 years ago | (#32459576)

If anyone needs additional proof for last week's article about the dramatic loss of empathy among the latest generation - just read these comments.

When I started here all there was was ash! (5, Funny)

RevWaldo (1186281) | more than 3 years ago | (#32459598)

All the other mayors said I was daft to build a city on top of ash, but I built it all the same, just to show 'em!

.
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