The discovery is less surprising than people might expect, said George Veni, executive director of the New Mexico-based National Cave and Karst Research Institute.
“It’s not unusual to have trees growing at the entrances to caves,” said Veni, who was not involved in the new research. “It’s just that [sinkhole] is particularly large and particularly deep, so it’s not the sort of thing most people would expect.
Giant sinkholes are common in this part of China, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. They are a feature of some karst landscapes and form when groundwater dissolves bedrock, causing the ceiling of a cave chamber to collapse. The great chasms are known in Chinese as “tiankeng” or “heavenly pits”.
Researchers have discovered the world’s deepest underwater sinkhole in the South China Sea
The sinkhole near Ping’e Village is known to local residents as Shenying Tiankeng, or “the bottomless pit.” From a distance, the cliff looks like a pair of slender wings, the Guangxi Daily newspaper reported.
Researchers arrived at the sinkhole on May 6 and saw dense trees blocking the bottom of the pit, the newspaper reported. They used drones to explore the area, then abseiled and hiked to the bottom for several hours, passing dense thorns and fig trees. They found three caves in the wall that may have formed during the early evolution of the sinkhole, Zhang Yuanhai, a senior engineer at the Institute of Karst Geology of the Geological Survey of China, told the official news agency. Chinese Xinhua.
While trees exist in other sinkholes, Veni said they can only grow if the hole is shallow enough and has a large enough opening to let in sunlight. The recently explored sinkhole is almost certainly home to small animals, such as insects, that are currently unknown to scientists, he said.
The sinkhole is the 30th found in Leye County in China. A video shared by CGTN, a Chinese state TV news channel, shows the explorers climbing through dense vegetation and documenting their findings. Comparing their new research with other sinkholes could help them better understand karst landscapes, the channel reported.