Prepare to be amazed by a recent discovery deep underground! Scientists have unearthed a colossal ancient forest buried 630 feet below the surface of a sinkhole in China’s Leye-Fengshan Global Geopark. Located in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, this geopark boasts the world’s longest natural bridge and caves, as recognized by UNESCO.
The UNESCO Global Geopark is mainly made up of sedimentary rocks, with over 60% being thick carbonate rocks from the Devonian to Permian periods. Its stunning “S”-shaped structure spans the karst regions of Leye and Fengshan counties, where two major subterranean rivers, the Bailang and Poyue, shaped the area’s landscape.
Between these rivers, the remarkable Buliuhe River formed, resulting in the creation of various karst geosites such as karst springs, high karst peak clusters (fengcong), natural bridges, poljes, karst windows (tiankengs), extensive caves, massive cave chambers, fault zones, minor folds, and intriguing fossils including those of giant pandas and Neogene stratigraphic sections.
With its display of tiankengs and high fengcong karst, the UNESCO Global Geopark showcases the different stages of karst development. It harbors the world’s most breathtaking karst windows, boasts the highest density of tiankengs and largest cave chambers recorded worldwide, and is home to the world’s longest natural bridges. This magnificent region is a testament to the marvels of nature.
Karst terrain, characterized by its loose soil structure, is prone to erosion from both above and below the surface, often resulting in the formation of sinkholes. In May 2022, scientists made a new sinkhole discovery within the geopark. Impressively, this sinkhole measures approximately 630 feet in depth, 490 feet in width, and over 1,000 feet in length.
Within this colossal sinkhole lies a plethora of mature trees and plants, raising the possibility that new species may have been discovered. Scientists have already identified three cave openings within the sinkhole, and expedition leader Chen Lixin believes they could find species not yet documented by science. He describes trees in the area that surpass 130 feet in height, indicating the richness and diversity of the underground ecosystem.
To gain further insights, the scientists reached out to George Veni, director of the National Cave and Karst Research Institute. According to Veni, the karst landscape, formed by disintegrating bedrock leading to sinkholes, can vary significantly based on factors such as location and temperature. China’s karst terrain stands out for its astonishing sinkholes and grand cave entrances, providing a dramatic spectacle unrivaled in many other parts of the world. In contrast, sinkholes in other regions can be more modest in size, with cave entrances that require a bit of squeezing to enter.
While this discovery may seem incredible, experts are not overly surprised. The extensive karst landscape in southern China is a natural breeding ground for fascinating caves and sinkholes. Veni explains that slightly acidic rainwater is the key element eroding the rock in a karst environment. As rainwater percolates through the ground, it absorbs carbon dioxide, increasing the acidity of the soil. This acidic water then seeps into the fissures of the bedrock, gradually creating tunnels and cavities. When these subterranean spaces become extensive enough, the rock above collapses, giving rise to sinkholes.
The recently discovered sinkhole, the thirty-first known opening in the region, adds to the already impressive karst wonders found in China. One such wonder is Xiaozhai Tiankeng, boasting the largest pit in the world. This sinkhole measures a staggering 2,100 feet in depth, 2,000 feet in length, and 1,760 feet in width. Its unique interior features a stream, creating a Minecraft-like landscape that captures the imagination.
Explore the breathtaking beauty and remarkable discoveries of China’s Leye-Fengshan Global Geopark and share the excitement with your family and friends!