Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Sudden sinkhole occurs on campus, causes and future risks remain unclear

September 29, 2023
A car drives over a temporarily repaired sinkhole on Service Rd near the south end of MSU's campus on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023. MSU officials closed the road after a sinkhole formed Wednesday night.
A car drives over a temporarily repaired sinkhole on Service Rd near the south end of MSU's campus on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023. MSU officials closed the road after a sinkhole formed Wednesday night. —
Photo by Jack Armstrong | The State News

A sudden sinkhole opened around 10 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 27, causing the MSU Department of Police and Public Safety to close off an area of Service Road in front of Spartan Linen Services. 

MSUPD spokesperson Dana Whyte believes that, because this is an "isolated incident," MSU's campus has no risk for future sinkholes.

However, Bob Drost, an MSU assistant professor who teaches science communication and natural hazards, said that one sinkhole can indicate other safety hazards nearby. 

Drost said sinkholes are ditches or caverns that develop unexpectedly because of a weakness below ground. While he doesn’t know what caused the sinkhole on Service Road this Wednesday, he said that most sinkholes have natural causes. 

“Underneath the surface of our feet is rock and soil and limestone, which are easily eroded with salt water,” Drost said. “That’s how everything on the surface collapses in.” 

In some cases, however, sinkholes are influenced by human actions. 

"Anytime you run things like water lines or sewer lines, those … can wash away underground structures," Drost said. "Drilling wells — if you do enough of it — (weakens) the support that water gives (the ground).”

Many people associate sinkholes with Florida due to their abundance of limestone surrounded by saltwater, but they aren’t the only state with this natural hazard. Michigan ground also contains limestone, mostly near the Great Lakes’ boundaries, and sinkholes happen no more or less frequently here compared to other midwestern states, Drost said. 

The sinkhole that appeared on campus was reported as a road hazard to MSUPD at 9 p.m. on Wednesday in the area near the Recycling Center. MSU Infrastructure Planning and Facilities, or IPF, repaired the sinkhole at around 3 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 28.

“Gravel (for repairing) the sinkhole had washed away, so IPF used asphalt instead,” Whyte said. 

MSUPD opened this area of Service Road at 9 a.m. once they felt there was no longer a safety concern. Drost believes asphalt may temporarily fix this sinkhole, but it can’t solve future problems. 

“Sinkholes don’t just happen for no reason,” Drost said. “There’s an underlying cause … whether natural or human. You need to address that. You can’t just fill a sinkhole and hope it doesn’t come back.”

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