Scientists Reveal an Ancient Forest Hidden in a Sinkhole

Unknown plants may be hiding deep under the ground.

Jun 7, 2022
Scientists Reveal an Ancient Forest Hidden in a Sinkhole | Unknown plants may be hiding deep under the ground.

Leye County, in China, is dotted with Karst formations so majestic and mysterious that they’ve earned themselves a UNESCO World Heritage site designation, reports Live Science.

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Researchers rappelled down into a newly discovered Karst sinkhole, for the first time in early May 2022.. Deep in the belly of the Earth, 630 feet down, they were shocked to unearth an ancient forest containing species that man may never have seen before! 

Giant sinkholes
In South China, hidden deep under the ground are caves and cavities, hollowed out by acidic rainwater runoff. In these subterranean caverns, water tinged with carbon dioxide is hard at work expanding fissures and cracks in the rocks.

As the water creates tunnels and caves, eventually the sunken space expands too much and the ceiling comes suddenly crashing down, creating massive sinkholes. Karst sinkholes of this size are only found in a few places in the world, including South China, Mexico and Papua New Guinea, CNBC TV18 reports. Leye County features at least 30 of these unique sinkholes, which can in some cases be as large as 2000 Olympic sized swimming pools! 

Although water plays havoc with underground geology worldwide, such massive sinkholes are rare, explains caving expert George Veni, executive director of the National Cave and Karst Research Institute. 

“So in China you have this incredibly visually spectacular karst with enormous sinkholes and giant cave entrances and so forth. 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,” Veni told Live Science.

An ancient forest
On May 6th, 2022, researchers and spelunkers abseiled into a newly discovered chasm in Guangxi, China. There, they discovered that the sinkhole’s enormous cave system featured three entrances.

It also featured an ancient forest; Trees as tall as 131 feet high stretched from the belly of the Earth towards the sunlight filtering in through the holes.

The undergrowth was similarly surreal. Expedition leader, Chen Lixin, reported that it was tall enough to reach up to their shoulders.

"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. 

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Sinkholes are important
Sinkholes, known as tiankeng in Chinese, which translates to heavenly pit, aren’t just otherworldly havens for new species of plants and sources of exhilarating leisure for spelunkers. 

These caverns play an important role in sustaining life as well! Water that continues to flow through Karst aquifers in sinkholes is the water source for 700 million people worldwide reports Live Science! 

Which other secrets and treasures does the Earth hide beneath its surface? Only time and exploration will tell!

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Adina is a writer who believes in the transformative power of words. She understands that everyone has a valuable story to tell. Adina’s goal is to learn new things every day and share her discoveries with others.