Science & Technology

The sinkholes devouring Turkey’s Konya Plain

By Ilya U. Topper

Konya, Turkey, Feb 5 (EFE).- The Konya Plain of central Anatolia is plagued by sinkholes, a geological phenomenon that has residents and local farmers fearful of the ground beneath their feet.

Almost perfectly round and with deep, vertical walls, the sinkholes spring up suddenly, devouring the earth on this fertile plateau in central Turkey.

Dotting the Konya Plain in their hundreds, these gulfs in the ground often measure between 10 and 30 meters across and 30 to 40 meters deep.

Ibrahim, who owns a farm near the Inoba sinkhole, tells Efe that there were no reports of humans or livestock falling into the crater but only by the “grace of God.”

The Inoba sinkhole, which Ibrahim says appeared in 2008, is now cordoned off by a wooden fence.

The other sinkholes dotting the land are also fenced off.

But in this flat region of Anatolia, the cavities can be hard to perceive from a distance and often only come into view within a few meters from the rim.

The phenomenon occurs due to the geology of the land and some of the sinkholes have existed for thousands of years. A sinkhole in Meyil, known for hosting a lake, has even become a tourist attraction.

Natural factors play a role. Droughts in recent decades have lowered the subterranean water levels, which heightens the chance of the rock structure collapsing in on itself.

Humans have also played a role, however.

From the 1990s, intense irrigated farming drawing from the region’s aquifers has proliferated the sinkholes in the region, according to a study by Ankara University.

On the Konya Plain, traditional sheep grazing has been slowly replaced by cattle farming and arable land that requires more water than is naturally available. In this semi-desert region of Turkey, temperatures hit highs of 40C (104F) in summer and lows of -20C in winter.

“We grow maize, beetroot, wheat,” says Murat, who also looks after livestock in an otherwise nearly abandoned town.

“Before, we were able to find water at a depth of 30 meters. Now we have to go down 120 meters. There are companies that come to drill wells to order,” he adds, pointing to pipes emerging from the ground.

An estimated 70% of the wells dug on the Konya Plain are illegal and have been installed to water crops that require a lot of water, the Ankara University study found.

“Before, the wells were 50 meters deep, now they go as far as 300, or 400 meters to draw water for maize,” Hasan Ekici, a local opposition politician, tells Efe.

“Maize requires a lot of water, this has led to the natural disaster of the sinkholes.”

His proposed solution — to draw water from neighboring river basins — has its critics, however, as drought blights the whole Anatolia region.

Closing the illegal wells and returning to crops that consume less water may be the only way to prevent the land from striking back and swallowing the surface. EFE

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