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Sinkholes in the UK: is the bad weather to blame?



Sinkholes have been appearing all over the UK – in places like North Yorkshire, Hertfordshire, Kent and Buckinghamshire. But is the recent bad weather to blame?

Emergency services in Ripon, North Yorkshire, have evacuated three homes over fears the properties could collapse.

This follows the opening up of a 25ft (7 metre) sinkhole that is thought to have been caused by the continued heavy rain.

The incident is the latest is a series of similar sinkholes that have appeared in the UK in recent weeks. Last week, a 10-metre-wide hole appeared underneath a street in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, whilst a stretch of the M2 in Kent was closed after a 4-metre-deep hole appeared in the central reservation.

There are a number of factors that can lead to a sinkhole – both natural and manmade.

Speaking to Blue & Green Tomorrow, Dr Vanessa Banks from the British Geological Survey said, “Heavy rain or surface flooding […] can initiate the collapse of normally stable cavities, especially those developed within superficial deposits. Leaking drainage pipes, burst water mains, irrigation or even the act of emptying a swimming pool are all documented examples of sinkhole triggers.”

She added, “Some sinkholes are caused not by dissolution of rock, but by the erosion of weak unconsolidated material by flowing water. Loose material can be removed by a process called ‘soil piping’.

Collapse subsidence features comprise voids that result from collapse into artificial features, [such as] mines (including ancient chalk mines that are referred to as deneholes), mine shafts, old wells, soakaways, former ice houses, former storage or refuse pits.”

In the US, cars, homes and even people have been known to have been swallowed up by sinkholes. Thankfully, there have been no reported injuries in the UK.

As for their origin, Banks made an important point: they are not caused by the weather, but are triggered by it. If the rain continues to fall heavily, it’s safe to say the likelihood of seeing more of these occurrences will increase.

Further reading:

Further floods expected along Thames – but worst weather is behind us

Lord Stern’s climate change warning: warmer and wetter UK ‘not a coincidence’

The environment surges in importance among British public amid flooding crisis

The floods should impel our essential services to review climate change risks

Met Office: evidence says ‘exceptional’ UK weather is linked to climate change