Today’s Solutions: May 31, 2023

At a time when the entire world is concerned with the far-reaching effects of years and years of unchecked deforestation, the astounding discovery of an ancient forest inside an enormous sinkhole in China is welcome news.

In May of 2022, cave explorers from the Institute of Karst Geology of the China Geological Survey stumbled upon the prehistoric forest which is situated just outside Ping’e village in Leye County, South China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. The team, led by Chen Lixin, was surprised to discover that they were descending into a sinkhole that is 630 feet deep, a depth that would engulf the Washington Monument.

According to a Guangxi news release, the explorers found ancient trees and other plant life waiting for them at the bottom. The hidden forest spans the length of almost three football fields and is home to trees that stand over 100 feet high. Impressive sinkholes like this one are known in Chinese as Tiankeng, which translates to “heavenly pit.”

The newly discovered sinkhole is one of 30 giant sinkholes in the nation. The Guangxi region is covered by karst topography, a type of topography that cultivates the optimal environment for the creation of geological wonders such as the sinkhole in Leye County. 

Karst landscapes are formed by groundwater dissolving under the limestone rock beneath the surface. Approximately 20 percent of the US is made up of karst landscapes, including well-known attractions like the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico and Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.

“In China, you have this incredibly visually spectacular karst with enormous sinkholes and giant cave entrances and so forth,” explains George Vein, executive director of the National Cave and Karst Research Institute. “In other parts of the world you walk out on the karst and you really don’t notice anything. Sinkholes might be quite subdued, only a meter or two in diameter. Cave entrances might be very small, so you have to squeeze your way into them.”

This story was part of our Best of 2022 series highlighting our top solutions from the year. Today we’re featuring solutions in science and technology.

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