The province of Konya, in the center of Turkey, is in suspense in front of the appearance of hundreds of large holes several tens of meters deep. But, although they remind us a lot of Siberian hydrolaccoliths, which are caused by the accumulation of methane gas in melting pockets of permafrost, the case of Turkey is entirely different.
These types of holes started appearing at the turn of the century, but over the years it has accelerated. According to data from Konya Technical University’s Subsidence Research Center, this year the situation has become alarming as about 600 holes have been recorded since January compared to 350 last year.
It’s the man’s fault
Konya province is known as the breadbasket of Turkey due to the vast sea of wheat stretching all around. But while the area remains the country’s main agricultural hub, the persistent drought that has plagued the area for years has caused an unforeseen problem that has only gotten worse in recent years: sinkholes.
As farmers increasingly turn to groundwater to keep their crops alive, the giant caverns that drain the water are eventually collapsing under the weight of the soil. These sinkholes create huge holes several tens of meters wide and up to 150 meters deep.
Professor Fetullah Arik, who heads the Sinkhole Research Center at Konya Technical University, says sinkholes are a fairly recent phenomenon that has been observed in the last 10 to 15 years, but the cause of the problem dates back to the 1990s. 1970s “It was then that uncontrolled groundwater irrigation began in the area, a practice that unfortunately continues to this day.”
Unfortunately, everything indicates that this problem will persist and worsen in the months to come. Drought in parts of Turkey, such as Konya, is causing water shortages in rivers and reservoirs, so farmers will continue to use groundwater.
Droughts are getting worse every year and getting water by other means is expensive, so farmers are always turning to groundwater, compounding the problem.
“Droughts are getting worse every year and sourcing water by other means is expensive, so farmers are always turning to groundwater, which compounds the problem,” says Fetullah Arik.
These types of sinkholes are almost unique to the Konya plain, due to the characteristics of the terrain, the direction of the water current, combined with the inclination of the water table.
Farmers are trying to find solutions to fill the sinkholes, but in the end they cannot be filled properly because the void under the ground is wider than it looks
“Farmers try to find solutions to fill the sinkholes, but in the end they cannot be filled properly because the void under the ground is wider than it looks. It is best to mark the area with a chasm sign to avoid accidents,” Fetullah Arik said.
Although they have yet to cause any human casualties, the holes are appearing closer to human settlements and the fact that scientists cannot predict where and when they will occur means the risks are high.