After scientists in Southern China discovered a massive sinkhole approximately 630 feet (192 meters) deep, they learned it was home to an ancient forest. Research spelunkers and speleologists rappelled into the sinkhole to investigate the life thriving there, including potentially new species of plants, bugs, and animals.
Within the sinkhole, a team from the Institute of Karst Geology at the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences (CAGS) discovered further caves, trees 131 feet (40 meters) high, an underground river, and ancient plant species.
Chen Lixin, who led the expedition team, stated: “I wouldn’t be surprised to know that there are species found in these caves that have never been reported or described by science until now.”
Lixin said that once his team reached the sinkhole floor, the grass was as high as some people’s shoulders, even their heads. It is not uncommon to discover entirely new species within a sinkhole, thus the importance of a well-trained research team.
At the bottom of the pit, researchers found wild plantain, as well as a rare square bamboo, Guangxi Daily reported.
The sinkhole was discovered outside the Ping’e village in Leye County, South China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
This region is characterized by its topography, called karst, a common setting for immense sinkholes due to acidic rainwater that dissolves the bedrock and creates cave chambers. When these caves’ ceilings collapse, it creates sinkholes.
Residents in the Southern China region refer to these giant sinkholes as “tiankeng,” meaning “sky holes” or “heavenly pits.”
The discovery of this new sinkhole brings the total count for the Leye County region to 30. Some of the sinkholes are connected by way of other caves and underground rivers.
The National Cave and Karst Research Institute (NCKRI) in the U.S. is a sister team to the Institute of Karst Geology in China. NCKRI Executive Director Dr. George Veni, while not a part of the discovering team, was excited about the discovery in the East.
Veni explained that the geology and weather in that particular region of China scientifically explain common sinkholes.
“In China, you have this incredibly visually spectacular karst with enormous sinkholes and giant cave entrances … in other parts of the world, you walk out on the karst, and you really don’t notice anything,” Veni said.
Approximately 20% of the world has a karst landscape where caves and sinkholes are not only possible but commonplace.
Karsts are also a common ground for naturally occurring aquifers.
According to Veni, “karst aquifers provide the sole or primary water source for 700 million people worldwide.”
The researchers are still collecting data about what potential undiscovered species may lie within this newfound, prehistoric sinkhole.
“This is cool news,” Veni said simply.