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Duration:03:55
Uploaded:2019-02-23
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You'd think if we can tell when a star is about to implode that we could predict when a giant hole is about to open up here on earth and ruin our day. So why are sinkholes still so hard to predict?

Hosted by: Hank Green

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Sources:

https://www.nasa.gov/press/2014/march/nasa-radar-demonstrates-ability-to-foresee-sinkholes#.XETj-1xKiMq
https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/02/140213-corvette-sinkhole-kentucky-museum-science/
https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/7895138
https://theconversation.com/how-to-detect-a-sinkhole-before-it-swallows-you-up-101543
https://www.pbs.org/newshour/extra/2013/04/sinkhole-science-is-actually-quite-simple/
https://water.usgs.gov/edu/sinkholes.html
http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20150226-when-the-earth-swallows-people
https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/science-behind-floridas-sinkhole-epidemic-180969158/
https://www.earthtech.com/residential/sinkhole-truth/sinkhole-warning-signs/
https://www.conserve-energy-future.com/causes-effects-and-types-of-sinkholes.php
This episode of SciShow is brought to you by SkillShare. [ intro ].

On February 12, 2014, the Corvette Museum in Kentucky was greeted by a big, unwelcome surprise. A large sinkhole opened up under the museum and swallowed eight collector cars.

Luckily, no humans were injured. With technology allowing us to more accurately predict natural disasters, you’d think we would have more warning before a bunch of the ground suddenly collapses. But forecasting sinkholes has remained surprisingly elusive.

There are three main ways for an area to become a sinkhole. First are dissolution sinkholes, which form when water trickles into small cracks, eroding bedrock under a thin layer of topsoil. There are also cover subsidence sinkholes, which form slowly as soil fills in cracks in bedrock, making a depression in the ground.

Finally, there are cover collapse sinkholes, which are probably what you’re most familiar with. They’re caused by rock eroding away and forming a small underground cavern. Then soil erodes and falls from the ceiling until it collapses in on itself.

While sinkholes are hard to anticipate, we do have some ways to get clues about when and where they’ll form. Scientists have created maps for sinkhole-prone regions that predict a home’s risk based on ground composition and other local sinkholes. But this still doesn’t give you a definite answer on whether a sinkhole might open up under your house.

You can also use planes or satellites to scan below the ground. Specifically, you can use a type of radar called InSAR to measure small deformations. The thing is, the soil erosion that leads up to a collapse happens slowly.

So you have to keep scanning and analyzing the same areas to watch for changes over time, which can be expensive and time-consuming. Even if you do detect signs of a sinkhole, there’s no way to know for sure when an open space might collapse. Deformations could signal danger, but they’re not a guarantee.

On an individual level, if you live in a sinkhole-prone area, you can try keeping an eye out for things like unusual cracks in walls or trees tilting a lot. More generally, though, knowing more about the artificial causes of sinkholes can also help. We can’t place all the blame for sinkholes on nature.

Humans often make the problem worse when we divert groundwater into new places, creating areas that are overly dry or excessively wet. That’s probably what caused the Corvette Museum sinkhole. Drainage water wasn’t diverted properly, which caused excessive erosion until the sinkhole formed.

So we don’t really have a great warning system for sinkholes yet, which means that for now they will continue to open up unexpectedly. But we can at least try to avoid causing them ourselves. Understanding sinkholes is all about data -- and as with all data, knowing how to visualize and communicate the information is key.

That’s where Skillshare can help. There are a whole bunch of classes on visualizing information, which really is something anyone can learn, even if you think you’re hopeless at anything artistic. Because it’s not about art skills -- it’s about learning a new way of thinking.

One Skillshare Original class, taught by information designer Catherine Madden, takes you through the basics of visual thinking, helping you learn to tell stories through different types of charts and maps. If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to design infographics, it’s a good place to start. And Skillshare is offering SciShow viewers two months of unlimited access for free!

There are also more than 20,000 other classes to choose from, which cover everything from accounting to music production. Just check out the link in the description! [ outro ].