Beneath the surface of a sinkhole in Guangxi, China’s Leye-Fengshan World Geopark lies an extraordinary ancient forest, discovered at a depth of 630 feet. This geopark, acclaimed by UNESCO for its unique geological features, is situated in the Zhuang Autonomous Area.
Comprising a diverse range of karst formations, such as caves, natural bridges, and extensive cave systems, the geopark primarily consists of Devonian to Permian carbonate rocks. Its captivating geological features include poljes, karst springs, karst windows (tiankengs), natural bridges, expansive cave chambers, and speleothems, as well as high karst peak clusters (fengcong).
In May 2022, scientists uncovered a new sinkhole within the geopark, measuring almost 1,000 feet in length, 490 feet in width, and nearly 630 feet in depth. Within this colossal sinkhole, several old trees and plants were identified, potentially including previously undiscovered species.
The massive sinkhole harbors a unique habitat for diverse plant and animal species, with researchers discovering three cave openings within its depths. Chen Lixin, the expedition’s leader, suggests that these caves may host unidentified species yet to be recognized by the scientific community.
Karst landscapes, characterized by sinkholes and caves, vary based on factors like location and temperature. The southern part of China, home to this geopark, boasts particularly impressive karst terrain, featuring expansive sinkholes and cavernous entrances. In contrast, other regions worldwide may contain smaller, less conspicuous sinkholes and cave entrances within their karst rocks.
The formation of sinkholes in karst terrain is attributed to the disintegration of bedrock by slightly acidic precipitation. As rainwater seeps through the soil, it becomes more acidic by absorbing carbon dioxide. When this acidic water infiltrates bedrock fissures, it carves out tunnels and chambers over time. Sinkholes form when the surrounding rock collapses as these subsurface voids expand.
This newly discovered sinkhole, marking the 30th recorded opening in the region, illuminates the geological wonders of China’s karst terrain. Notably, the world’s largest sinkhole, Xiaozhai Tiankeng, is also situated in China, measuring 2,100 feet in depth, 2,000 feet in length, and 1,760 feet in width, with a flowing stream reminiscent of scenes from the popular video game Minecraft.
The revelation of a forest concealed within this sinkhole underscores the undiscovered natural beauty of our world and emphasizes the importance of preserving these distinctive geological formations.