China sinkhole uncovered with ancient forest, tall plants in the background

Southern Chinese cavers may have found the modern equivalent of the Lost World.

At the bottom of the recently discovered 630-foot-deep sinkhole lies a hidden forest, lush with shoulder-high flora and tall trees.

Researchers also believe there could be new species of animals and plants in the sinkhole, which is made up of three caves and measures 5 million square meters, the equivalent of 2,000 Olympic swimming pools.

The sinkhole was discovered in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, near Ping’e Village in Leye County, according to the official Chinese government news agency Xinhua. The region in southern China is known for its caves. , sinkholes and karst forests, limestone formations that populate the landscape.

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Cave exploration team leader Chen Lixin told Xinhua that the ancient trees growing at the bottom of the sinkhole are nearly 130 feet tall, taller than most oak trees. The dense shade plants grew as tall as the explorers’ shoulders, Lixin said.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to know that there are species found in these caves that have never been reported or described by science until now,” Lixin said, according to Live Science.

These types of sinkholes and caves could harbor new flora and fauna, international cave expert George Veni told Live Science. “This is good news,” said Veni, who was not involved in the discovery or exploration of this new cave. He is the executive director of the National Cave and Karst Research Institute in Carlsbad, New Mexico.

According to the institute, sinkholes and caves are created over time as water dissolves limestone. Large sinkholes may have small ponds and fields of plants at the bottom.

Zhang Yuanhai, a senior engineer with the Geological Survey of China’s Institute of Karst Geology, classified the find as a large sinkhole, with well-preserved primeval forest at the bottom, Xinhua reported.

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The explorers ended their expedition on May 6, emerging from the sinkhole after rappelling more than 100 meters (about 330 feet) and walking for several hours to reach its bottom, according to Xinhua. The sinkhole is approximately 1,000 feet long, 500 feet wide, and 630 feet deep.

That such a sinkhole can be found in China is no big surprise because the region has “this incredibly visually spectacular karst with huge sinkholes and giant cave entrances and so on,” Veni told Live Science. .

Zhang Yuanhai was part of a team that explored an even bigger sinkhole found in Guangxi five years ago.

This latest discovery brings the number of such sinkholes in the region to 30, Xinhua reported. Mexico and Papua New Guinea are other countries where sinkholes are commonly found.

An April 2020 photo of Dashiwei Tiankeng, a giant karst sinkhole, in southern China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, where another sinkhole was discovered in May 2022. The area, Leye-Fengshan Geopark, which contains large underground rivers, natural bridges and extensive cave systems, was added to the UNESCO Global Geoparks list in 2010.

Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @mikesnider.

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