WATCH: 700-Foot Deep Sinkhole Mysteriously Opens in South America

by Lauren Boisvert

In Chile, a nearly 700-foot-deep sinkhole appeared over the weekend. And no, this is not an “Outer Range” spin-off. The sinkhole opened up on land owned by a Canadian mining company, and Chilean geologists are investigating the cause. The hole is 82 feet in diameter and exactly 656 feet deep.

The National Service of Geology and Mining, called Sernageomin, first became aware of the sinkhole on Saturday. The organization posted about it on Twitter. Sernageomin’s director, David Montenegro, then made a statement. “There is a considerable distance, approximately 200 meters (656 feet), to the bottom. We haven’t detected any material down there, but we have seen the presence of a lot of water,” he said.

Canadian company Lundin Mining owns the adjacent copper mine close to the sinkhole. Tierra Amarilla’s mayor Cristóbal Zúñiga made a statement on the local radio station. The community near the mine “has always had a fear that something like this could happen. Today it happened in a space that’s an agricultural property, but our greatest fear now is that this could happen in a populated place, on a street, in a school.”

For Lundin Mining’s part, they also put out a statement after the incident. They stated that “upon detection, the area was immediately isolated and the relevant regulatory authorities notified. There has been no impact to personnel, equipment, or infrastructure. The surficial sinkhole has remained stable since detection,” they added.

Sinkhole and Mining Company Remains Nuisance to Adjacent Chilean Community

The 25-year-old mayor of Tierra Amarilla, the town adjacent to the mining operation, remains adamant that something like this will someday happen again. Next time it might be in a populated area. Organizations and individuals have long accused Lundin Mining of violating environmental and human rights over the years, Vice reports. Now, the company’s statement is falling on uninterested ears.

According to Zúñiga, the community of Tierra Amarilla reports near-constant blasting and tremors that “have destroyed our houses and our streets, and today, destroyed the ground.” Zúñiga went on to tell Cuidadano ADN Radio, “The government, Sernageomin, and this company must be held responsible and be investigated quickly regarding what happened and why. Sernageomin must get its act together and do a good job and clarify what the reason is, and if it is connected to mining activity, or due to nature.”

How Do Sinkholes Form?

Sinkholes naturally form when water erodes surface rock, and everything caves inward. Mostly, sinkholes appear in limestone areas. They can also form when the roofs of caves collapse. Sinkholes usually occur naturally, but there are times when they can be human-made. These sinkholes form due to land-use practices, such as building aquifers, pumping groundwater, new construction, or changing natural water-diversion patterns. Mining can also cause sinkholes by weakening the rock below the surface and then overburdening that weakened rock. Mining operations can avoid this by properly building support systems in the mines prone to sinkholes.