Deep underground, a recent discovery has left scientists astounded. Unearthed 630 feet below the surface of a sinkhole in China’s Leye-Fengshan Global Geopark is a colossal ancient forest. This geopark, located in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, is renowned for its natural wonders, including the world’s longest natural bridge and caves, as recognized by UNESCO.
The UNESCO Global Geopark is predominantly composed of sedimentary rocks, with over 60% being thick carbonate rocks dating back to the Devonian to Permian periods. The geopark’s stunning “S”-shaped structure spans the karst regions of Leye and Fengshan counties, shaped by the Bailang and Poyue subterranean rivers.
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 impressive tiankengs and high fengcong karst, the UNESCO Global Geopark showcases the different stages of karst development. It is home to the world’s most breathtaking karst windows, boasting the highest density of tiankengs and largest cave chambers recorded worldwide. Moreover, it houses the world’s longest natural bridges. This magnificent region stands as a testament to the marvels of nature.
Karst terrain, characterized by its loose soil structure, is susceptible to erosion from both above and below the surface, often leading to the formation of sinkholes. In May 2022, scientists made an extraordinary sinkhole discovery within the geopark. This sinkhole is truly remarkable, measuring 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 exciting possibility that new species may have been discovered. Three cave openings have already been identified by scientists, 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, displaying the richness and diversity of the underground ecosystem.
To gain further insights, the scientists sought the expertise of George Veni, director of the National Cave and Karst Research Institute. According to Veni, China’s karst landscape, resulting from disintegrating bedrock leading to sinkholes, showcases incredible diversity. Sinkholes in China are grand and awe-inspiring, with giant cave entrances that set them apart from other regions where sinkholes can be more modest in size.
While this discovery may seem extraordinary, experts are not overly surprised. The extensive karst landscape in southern China provides a natural breeding ground for fascinating caves and sinkholes. Veni explains that the key element eroding the rock in a karst environment is slightly acidic rainwater. 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.
Embark on a journey to explore the breathtaking beauty and remarkable discoveries of China’s Leye-Fengshan Global Geopark. Share the excitement with your family and friends as you delve into this hidden underground wonderland!