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How The Elements Affect Our Streets: Sink Holes Explained

 August 27, 2014  /  Comments Off on How The Elements Affect Our Streets: Sink Holes Explained

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Sinkholes have become a more familiar sight in the UK, thanks in part to news reports. The general public, and homeowners in particular, have also been experiencing these events for themselves, as large holes appear in residential areas, parks and in roads.

While potholes, the traditional holes which form in roads after heavy rain, have long been a familiar sight, the significantly larger sinkhole phenomena is much less well known, and so the public have experienced a great deal of fear and anxiety over this phenomena. However, despite their relative newness among the general public, the scientific community have long understood sinkholes, what causes them, and how they could be predicted.

How The Elements Affect Our Streets Sink Holes Explained

Where sinkholes come from

The typical sinkhole is a depression or gap in the ground where there is no drainage. The sinkhole is formed when rain saturates the area of the sinkhole, and stays inside the area with no drainage. They most typically occur in areas where the ground is easily dissolved by water, including gypsum, limestone, dry salt beds, and other forms of rock. Limestone in particular may be most vulnerable to the problems caused by inadequate draining.

On a regular basis, the rock is carried away by ground water, and so beneath the surface layer holes and spaces may appear.

What happens to these water-damaged stones when there is a heavy rainfall is that the rock is partially dissolved, and partially washed away by the power of the water, and the holes and spaces caused by earlier erosion cannot support the uppermost layer of water. The ground then sinks into the hole, creating a large depression.

Sinkholes are so impressive because water has the opportunity to wear away large areas of subsoil while leaving the topmost layer looking pristine, which then means that when a heavy downpour causes the sinkhole to open, it looks incredibly dramatic.

Another problem, common in parts of the UK that experienced floods in the past few years, is abandoned mineshafts. These mines are often extremely old, in poor repair, and all but forgotten. This means that when the mine does collapse, people are taken by surprise. In the case of old mines, water rushing through the shafts wears away support pillars until the roof collapses, causing a sudden hole to open up in the ground above.

Can sinkholes be predicted?

Although sinkholes can seem unexpected, they should in fact be relatively easy to predict. The most important factor is the rock layer, as rock that is not washed away by water will not cause sinkholes. However, another important factor is the question of whether human activity has something to do with these accidents. Leaking pipes, removal of plants and industrial farming can all contribute to the damage to water-permeable rocks.

Other activities, including building on flood plains, lack of waterway maintenance and quarrying can also be linked to the rise in sinkholes. This means that scientists can use all of these factors: natural risk, human environmental damage and poor water management, to predict where sinkholes may occur in the future.

Fraser Ruthven is the Marketing Associate for the well-established London Drainage Facilities. Fraser has a wealth of knowledge in the drainage industry and is still shocked by the sheer power that Mother Nature has on our streets.

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  • Published: 3 years ago on August 27, 2014
  • Last Modified: August 27, 2014 @ 4:28 am
  • Filed Under: Other

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