Essay: Sinkholes

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[. . .] But there are more extensive problems related to thawing permafrost. Thawing permafrost can also result in irregular land, leading to leaning buildings and unsafe foundations for the buildings. Trees may fall over when the permafrost thaws, causing damage and even casualties. Beneath the surface, any pipes can easily be damaged due to the permafrost thawing. Infrastructure damage can be astounding, was with large-scale projects like the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline ("Sinkholes, Land Subsidence, and Swelling Soils").

The thawing of the permafrost can also lead to a feedback loop, in which a little thawing causes more due to the release of carbon from the initial thaw. Most permafrost will have some carbon molecules trapped inside. This is especially true when the permafrost is located in peat-rich areas. The melting of the permafrost releases the carbon molecules, and carbon dioxide. Especially in peat-rich areas, the release of the carbon is also accompanied by the release of methane gas. This double release of carbon dioxide and methane gas contributes further to global warming and results in more permafrost areas thawing, and so on for the feedback loop.

When permafrost thaws, it also alters the characteristics of the local geology and plant life. Permafrost bonds together mosses and other elements. When it melts, those elements are no longer bound together. The ground settles where it was once firm, leading to frequent landslides and rock fractures. This compromises the integrity of the ground surface. There are other large-scale consequences of melting permafrost. For example, the melting ice in the permafrost contributes to rising sea levels.

d) Describe several consequences related to expanding clays.

Expanding clays and swelling soils can have disastrous consequences. Some of the consequences are similar to those that take place due to both sinkholes and melting permafrost. For example, swelling clay leads to ground irregularities, which in turn lead to the compromised building structures like foundations of homes. Expanding clays and swelling soils can cause expensive damage to the walls and structures of all buildings. Moreover, the expanding soils can lead to costly damages to asphalt and road working surfaces.

Soils and clays can undergo cycles of swelling and shrinking, which links soil swelling to the phenomenon of land subsidence. The one factor that is most often linked to the tendency for the clay to expand is presence of smectite ("Sinkholes, Land Subsidence, and Swelling Soils"). Smectite has the tendency to expand more than other minerals that are found in clay. The result of swelled smectite clay can be cracked surfaces, and can lead to hazardous road conditions ("Sinkholes, Land Subsidence, and Swelling Soils"). Similarly, building foundations, driveways, and chimneys can suffer due to swelling clay ("Sinkholes, Land Subsidence, and Swelling Soils"). The expansion rates and intensity can vary within a short or small area, leading to widespread local irregularities in surfaces. Temperature fluctuations and precipitation changes can further exacerbate the erratic changes to the surface clay. Furthermore, surface clay is electrically charged; it contains ions that can be exchanged and bonded with undesirable organic compounds like pesticides (United States Geological Survey). In this way, the expansion of clay can cause contamination of ground water and the contamination of soil used in agricultural areas. This leads to widespread health hazards, and can have long-term detrimental effects for an entire region. Further erosion can take place, as can diagenesis (United States Geological Survey).

Works Cited

Baryakh, A.A. And Fedoseev, A.K. Sinkhole formation mechanism. Journal of Mining Science 47(4).

Environmental Protection Agency. "Thawing Permafrost." Retrieved online:

Foose, R.M. Sinkhole formation by groundwater withdrawal. Science 157(3792), 1967.

Missouri Department of Natural Resources (n.d.). Sinkhole formation. Retrieved online:

Poland, J.F. & Davis, G.H. Land subsidience due to the withdrawal of fluids. Geological Society of America. 1969. Retrieved online:

"Sinkholes, Land Subsidience, and Swelling Soils," Chapter 9 in United States Geological Service. "Environmental Characteristics of Clays and Clay Mineral Deposits." Retrieved online: [END OF PREVIEW]

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APA Format

Sinkholes.  (2012, November 12).  Retrieved May 25, 2019, from

MLA Format

"Sinkholes."  12 November 2012.  Web.  25 May 2019. <>.

Chicago Format

"Sinkholes."  November 12, 2012.  Accessed May 25, 2019.