Prepare to be amazed as scientists have uncovered a vast ancient forest hidden 630 feet below the surface of a sinkhole in China’s Leye-Fengshan Global Geopark. This enchanting region, located in China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, is not only known for its stunning natural bridge and caves but also holds the title of being home to the longest natural bridge and caves in the world, according to UNESCO.

The UNESCO Global Geopark is primarily sedimentary, boasting more than 60% of 3000m thick Devonian to Permian carbonate rocks. Its unique geography is characterized by an impressive ‘S’-shaped structure and a rhombus configuration in the karst areas of Leye and Fengshan counties. These formations played a significant role in the development of two large subterranean rivers, the Bailang and Poyue, as well as the creation of the Buliuhe River. As a result, this captivating landscape is adorned with various karst geosites, including towering karst peak clusters, poljes, karst springs, karst windows (tiankengs), natural bridges, large caves, massive cave chambers, and speleothems.

But that’s not all! The UNESCO Global Geopark is also home to fault zones, minor folds, and captivating fossils of giant pandas, among other remarkable discoveries. It provides a vivid representation of the stages of development of tiankengs and high fengcong karst. With the highest density of tiankengs and cave chambers worldwide and boasting the most spectacular karst windows, this geopark truly offers an awe-inspiring experience like no other.

The formation of sinkholes is a fascinating process influenced by the loose soil structure of karst terrain. Sinkholes can occur when the soil erodes either from above or beneath the surface. Recently, in May 2022, scientists detected a new sinkhole in the Leye-Fengshan Global Geopark that measures a staggering 630 feet deep, 490 feet broad, and over 1,000 feet long. Inside this sinkhole, several mature trees and plants have been discovered, some of which may be new species waiting to be documented by science.

Further exploration of the sinkhole revealed three cave openings within a massive chamber measuring 1,004 feet in length and 492 feet in width. Chen Lixin, the expedition leader, expressed excitement about potential discoveries within these caves, stating that it wouldn’t be surprising if previously undocumented species were found there. This revelation showcases the incredible biodiversity hidden beneath the Earth’s surface.

George Veni, the director of the National Cave and Karst Research Institute, also provided valuable insights into the unique karst topography present in the region. He explained that karst topography, formed by crumbling bedrock leading to the creation of sinkholes, can exhibit significant variation depending on factors such as location and temperature. He further emphasized that China’s karst landscapes, with their enormous sinkholes and vast cave entrances, are truly spectacular and set them apart from other regions around the world where sinkholes and cave entrances may be much smaller and less impressive.

The discovery of this sinkhole, though astonishing, is not unexpected in the karst-rich landscapes of southern China. The region’s karst topography, coupled with slightly acidic rainwater, contributes to the erosion of limestone. When rainwater seeps into the soil, it absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, increasing its acidity. Over time, water flows through fractures in the bedrock, gradually forming tunnels and cavities. Eventually, the subsurface gaps become large enough for the rock above to collapse, giving rise to sinkholes, such as the one revealed in the Leye-Fengshan Global Geopark.

China can now proudly add this sinkhole, the thirty-first known opening in the region, to its list of remarkable natural wonders. Xiaozhai Tiankeng, with its incredible dimensions of 2,100 feet deep, 2,000 feet long, and 1,760 feet wide, exemplifies the magnificence of these geological formations. It even features a flowing stream, creating a scene reminiscent of the popular game Minecraft.

So, if you’re eager to embark on an extraordinary journey through millennia-old forests and captivating underground worlds, the Leye-Fengshan Global Geopark is waiting to enchant and amaze you. Prepare to be captivated by its stunning natural wonders and the mysteries that lie beneath the surface.