Whether it’s building an 8,850-kilometer (5,500-mile) wall in to see if it can keep some pesky neighbors out of our vegetable patch (it can’t) or blowing up an island to see if our bomb is big enough to level a city (it can) we are really good at leaving our mark.
1. Louisiana Sinkhole: Lake Peigneur, Louisiana
Once upon a time, back before 1980, there was a lovely freshwater lake near the Gulf of Mexico by New Iberia, Louisiana.
Lake Peigneur was only 3.5 meters (11 feet) deep, but it boasted a gorgeous botanical park filled with native species on its little island. It also had bragging rights to a salt mine deep beneath the clear freshwater.
In 1980, suspecting there was more than salt down there, workers set up an oil rig and began looking for black gold under Lake Peigneur. After drilling down about 366 meters (1200 feet), the drill seized up, there were some loud pops, and the rig began to tilt in a way that suggested it was time to take a break.
The men fled to shore, then watched as the lake swallowed their rig. Then the water began to swirl. Slowly at first, but building pace quickly. In no time, the peaceful lake became a churning whirlpool a quarter of a mile in diameter.
Meanwhile, men working in the salt mine below the lake — remember the mine? — heard some weird clanging. They discovered it came from some fuel drums banging together as the knee-deep stream of muddy water carried them along the mineshaft.
They decided it might be break time, too.
There were 50 miners down there that day, some as deep as 457 meters (1500 feet) underground. They all scrambled to the 8-man elevator at 396 meters (1300 feet) down that could take them to the surface. Miraculously, all 50 miners escaped.
The drilling had penetrated the salt dome and allowed the lake into the mine. The water dissolved the salt, and the precarious support under the lake simply washed away.
On the surface, the growing whirlpool sucked in another oil rig, barges, trucks, trees, buildings, and a parking lot. Its suck was so strong that it actually reversed the flow of water in a 19-kilometer (12-mile) canal leading to the Gulf of Mexico, and dragged 11 barges and a tugboat back from the canal into the swirling vortex of doom.
After just three hours, only a sinkhole remained.
It had drained 3 and a half billion gallons of water and created a 46-meter (150-foot) waterfall from the canal into where the lake had been. Over the next two days, saltwater from the Gulf filled the crater, and most of the barges popped back up to the surface.
Somehow, nobody was killed.
2. Blood Red Soil: Betsiboka Estuary, Madagascar
Once upon a time, ships used to be able to sail from the ocean up the Betsiboka River in Madagascar, but these days they must dock at the coast: the mouth of the river is too clogged with sediment. And it’s our fault.
Over a century of heavy logging of the rainforests and coastal mangroves has left the landscape bereft of life, with nothing to stop heavy rains — which happen a lot in Madagascar — from washing away the land.
All of the land. Like, 112 tons of soil per acre every year.
The soil is bright red in color and washes down the mountains into the streams and rivers and out to into the ocean. From space, it looks like the land is bleeding.