Imagine there's an underground man made structure e.g. a tunnel or an underground train station that collapses creating a depression in the surface. Would that technically be called a sinkhole? What is the exact definition of a sinkhole (for someone illiterate in earth sciences, please, thanks.)?

The wikipedia article on sinkholes seems to suggest that they should be called collapses and not sinkholes:

Collapses, commonly incorrectly labeled as sinkholes also occur due to human activity, such as the collapse of abandoned mines and salt cavern storage in salt domes in places like Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. More commonly, collapses occur in urban areas due to water main breaks or sewer collapses when old pipes give way.

(emphasis mine)

The media keeps calling them sinkholes. A google search on sinkholes will give numerous news articles that call these incidents sinkholes.

P.S. Sorry about the tags. Not sure what tags to use.


2 Answers 2


This is probably more of an English language question than a science question. The answer to it depends on the extent of a person's vocabulary & knowledge of a particular field of engineering.

Over a period of time, in the media I have read & heard mine "tunnels" incorrectly being called shafts. Mine shafts are vertical or near vertical. What most people call mine "tunnels", people in the industry call drifts or drives - these are horizontal or near horizontal. The word tunnel is better applied to civil items of infrastructure rather than mines: such as rail or vehicular tunnels or tunnels to access underground bunkers or storage facilities.

Similarly, a tunnel or mine collapse could be termed a sinkhole and people not familiar with either the civil engineering or mining fields might do that - particularly journalists. People in the civil or mining fields would use terms such as tunnel collapse or mine subsidence hole.


Is an underground mine collapse or a tunnel collapse called a sinkhole?

Technically, Yes. But, not the actual one.

Sinkholes are a result of a natural phenomenon caused by the erotion of underground rock layers mostly made of limestones.

The most popular case of sinkholes is in Guatemala which is/was natural.

  • $\begingroup$ I think sinkholes can be man made processes too like mining, groundwater, petroleum or natural gas withdraw. $\endgroup$ Jul 5, 2018 at 12:59
  • $\begingroup$ Not necessarily limestone. Sinkholes are common around the Dead Sea, where they form by groundwater dissolution of underground halite (NaCl salt). $\endgroup$
    – Gimelist
    Jul 7, 2018 at 1:20

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