The earth opening up and swallowing its inhabitants seems like something out of a sci-fi movie, however at a whopping 31 metres deep and 21 metres wide the sinkhole formed May 30 in Guatemala City is no figment of any imagination.
Sinkholes appear suddenly and there are several ways they are said to occur. Soil can collapse when it becomes waterlogged, increasing in weight and creating a breakdown due to existing voids underground. Sinkholes can also happen in the presence of limestone, salt beds and other rock prone to disintegration or fracture.
In the case of Guatemala either scenario is plausible and although it remains to be determined what actually caused the sinkhole to emerge, experts speculate that the tropical storm Agatha is likely part of the equation.
A previous sinkhole in Guatemala in 2007 emerged due to a break in a sewer line. Other sinkholes have occurred in the US, Egypt, Russia and Venezuela.
There is still the risk that the sinkhole could expand and engorge other buildings. Normally sinkholes are filled in but the monumental size of the one in Guatemala City is making the prospect of filling it a daunting task
With this year’s hurricane season predicted to be particularly intense, we may see an increase in this type of phenomena, adding one more line to the growing list of reasons to get serious about climate change.