Mysterious holes are appearing across the Indiana sand dunes and nobody knows why.
What is even stranger is that the holes, which are about a foot wide and sometimes immeasurably deep, then fall in on themselves and vanish again within a day of materializing.
The local National Park Service has closed Mount Baldy indefinitely after one of the first holes swallowed up a six year old boy last July. The unfortunate child managed to escape without serious injury after remaining buried under the sand for several hours. Since then, two other holes have opened and 66 other "soft spot" anomalies have been identified across the dune.
"We don't know exactly what's going on out there," said Ken Mehne, law enforcement specialist for the park. "We can't let folks out onto the area until we know it's safe."
The phenomenon is not geologically possible according to experts, as sand dunes were previously thought to be solid structures, yet a video on the park's website shows researchers inserting a stick into one of the "soft spots" then watching the sand disappear into it like an hourglass.
"We're seeing what appears to be a new geological phenomenon," says geologist Erin Argyilan, who has been studying the holes for several months.
The most popular hypothesis is based around the fact that the dune covers an ancient forest, so it is has been suggested that the holes are being caused by the disintegration of rotting trees underground. According to a statement on the park's website "the age of the materials and the wet conditions during the spring of 2013 may have forced these materials to become unstable and collapse."
“We have seen evidence of trees that have been uncovered before as the dune moved on,” described park ranger Bruce Rowe. “But in the past they were always partially decayed stumps of trees. They were called ghost forests.
"They fell apart as they were exposed to the air. But the idea of holes rather than stumps is completely new to science.
“We contacted various coastal dune specialists, and one of them said, ‘If I hadn’t heard this had actually happened from you, I’d say it was impossible. This has become a really fascinating science mystery that’s playing out in our park.”
In an attempt to explain the phenomena and predict where future holes may open up, researchers will move into the area this summer with ground-penetrating radar which will measure the thickness of the dune.
Dr. G. William Monaghan, a geologist and geoarchaeologist with the Indiana University Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology, plans to use an unmanned drone equipped with lasers to safely and accurately provide a detailed map of the area. Core samples will also be taken to assess what lies beneath the surface of the dunes, and until more is known, the whole area will remain closed to the public.
" We’ll see if there’s a void down there,” said Monaghan. “In a way we’re not sure what we’re gonna see until we’re out there seeing it.
At 126 ft. tall, the Mount Baldy is one the tallest dunes on Lake Michigan, and is a very popular tourist attraction. It moves a little every year as living dunes do, earning it the name of the "wandering dune."
Unfortunately, if a definitive cause for the holes cannot be found, it is possible that Mount Baldy may never re-open to the public.
Elsewhere across the globe, sink holes have been appearing along the shores of the Dead Sea in Israel, in Russian towns and forests, and in various locations in the United Kingdom.
The Dead Sea Holes may soon become as legendary as the Dead Sea Scrolls, as they are said to be appearing at an amazing rate of one per day; the first hole occurred in the 1980s and, to date, there are now around three thousand. This astonishing increase in sinkholes is said to be directly related to the fact that the Dead Sea is drying up at a rate of one meter per year, a trend said to be exacerbated by climate change.
U.K. residents have been warned to expect more sink holes to appear as a result of climate change, said one leading expert. Holes have opened up in several locations across the United Kingdom, including Ripon, High Wycombe and the Peak District, and are thought to be due to wetter winters washing away soft rock and sand.
Dr Nigel Woodcock from the Department of Earth Sciences at Cambridge University predicts that the increase in precipitation caused by climate change will see changes in the water table that could cause more sinkholes. Dr. Vanessa Banks from the British Geological Survey concurred:
"The ground is saturated at the moment, in certain parts of the country, and where it's saturated, it will remain saturated for some weeks, if not months," she explained. "And gradually the situation will improve, but in the short term I suspect there will be more of these incidents being reported."
An epidemic of massive sink holes spread through the Russian city of Samara earlier this year, some vast enough to engulf cars and trucks, as one unlucky taxi driver discovered when his cab disappeared into one of the larger voids. The winter thaws are being blamed for the collection of craters, which have wreaked havoc across the city, causing crashes and traffic mayhem that resulted in the death of one person.
The wetter weather conditions brought about by climate change are undoubtedly a factor in the onset of the weird hole phenomena worldwide. Sink holes are certainly exacerbated by the type of svere weather conditions seen recently across the globe, as the stability of underground soil is undermined by extremes of wet and dry weather. The Indiana holes do not fit the normal "sink hole" criteria as water cannot usually destabilize the interior of sand dunes in the same way as other underground strata. For now, their appearance must remain a mystery.