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Sinkholes continue to appear in Turkey due to groundwater overdraft

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  • Sinkholes continue to appear in Turkey due to groundwater overdraft
    Collapse sinkhole in gypsum, near Madrid, central Spain. Credit: Wikipedia

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Overuse of groundwater for irrigation purposes in the Konya Plain, an important wheat producing area in the central Turkish province by the same name, has caused sinkholes to appear in recent years, informs the Turkish journal Daily Sabah. Some 330 sinkholes have appeared so far, and although there are no casualties to regret, a portion of the fields remains unusable, while the government studies how to fill the voids. In the province of Çankırı, north of Konya, an increasing number of sinkholes have also been reported in recent years.

This is a karst landscape, a topography formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks, naturally characterized by underground drainage systems with sinkholes and caves. However, as a result of population growth and increased agricultural activities, and the subsequent rise in groundwater use for irrigation, the number of sinkholes is rising, some of them closer to populated areas. An entire village in Çankırı is being relocated 2 km away from its former location after a number of sinkholes appeared in and around the village since 2015.

Although the increasing number of sinkholes is a recent phenomenon, groundwater overexploitation has been taken place since the 1970s, and is the main factor behind it.

Some sinkholes are shallow, but others can be as much as 150 metres deep. As a precaution, the State Hydraulics Works Agency has declared areas with many sinkholes off-limits to groundwater use, and is informing farmers about proper irrigation practices to prevent groundwater depletion.

Professor Fetullah Arık, from the Department of Geology Engineering at Konya Teknik University, said they have been working on reducing the damage from sinkholes. Although some farmers have tried to fill the sinkholes, the void beneath them is larger than can be seen, so the solution is not viable. He advises to mark off the area around sinkholes to prevent accidents. He also warns that the first step to prevent further sinkholes is to stop illegal water wells. Professor Ceyhun Göl from Çankırı Karatekin University also shares his views, and proposes incentives to grow crops that are not so water intensive.

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