I don’t speak Turkish but I wouldn’t be surprised if the native word for “sinkholes” is Karapinar. That’s the town in central Turkey that has seen nine huge sinkholes mysteriously open in just three months, including one that’s already 70 meters (230 feet) deep. This is an area that has experienced sinkholes in the past but these are larger and deeper and opening faster than ever before. What could be causing the earth to slowly swallow Karapinar?
Twelve large sinkholes are known to have opened in Karapinar over the past two years, but the local farmers are reluctant to report them for fear that their farms will be restricted or shut down for safety reason. Some estimates say at least 200 additional sinkholes have gone unreported during this three month period for that reason.
Geologists discovered this sinkhole-prone area is getting progressively worse when a study was conducted in 2010. It found that, of the 19 large sinkholes formed from 1977 to 2009, 13 of them occurred after 2005. It was estimated at that time that the unofficial number of sinkholes was over 100.
The geology of the area explains some of the sinkholes. It’s near the Karapınar Volcanic Field, which has five cinder cones but has seen no eruptions there for at least 3,000 years. The surrounding plateau is made of limestone which has natural sinkholes dating back hundreds of thousands of years.
What caused the sudden recent increase? Those farmers hiding the sinkholes are partly to blame. The increase of agriculture in this semi-arid climate required thousands of deep wells to be drilled, reducing the groundwater level by 24 meters, most of that in the past few years. Add to that the unusually heavy rains the area experienced recently (climate change anyone?) and you have the ingredients for more and bigger sinkholes.
There’s no word on what the local or Turkish government will do about Karapinar’s sinkhole epidemic but the fact that the farmers are hiding them suggests there will be little cooperation until some farmer disappears.