But as many will know, this is far from the first time sinkholes have caused drama in the region as of late.
In 2016 alone – the year that will be remembered by Mancunians for Brexit, the electing of Donald Trump, and of course, sinkholes – at least six major sinkholes opened up across Greater Manchester.
The Mancunian Way sinkhole – which was caused by a collapsed water culvert destroying a main sewer, and quickly became a tourist attraction until it was finally fixed and reopened on 16th June – grabbed most of the headlines, but there was also a 10ft deep, 2ft wide sinkhole that appeared on Tib Street in the Northern Quarter in April, the collapse of an old brick sewer that opened one in Whitefield on 12th September, a super storm caused traffic chaos in Cheetham Hill as a crater closed Waterloo Road two days later, and several other notable instances that can all be referenced from that same year.
But now that we’ve actually highlighted the sheer scale of the problem, what actually is a sinkhole? What makes them occur? And just why do we seem to be so plagued with them here in Greater Manchester?
We had a dig around to get to the bottom of this – and this is what we found.
What are sinkholes?
If we’re going to get technical with it, the Oxford English Dictionary defines a sinkhole as: “a cavity in the ground, especially in a limestone formation, caused by water erosion and providing a route for surface water to disappear underground”, but in a nutshell, a sinkhole is essentially any hole in the ground created by erosion and the drainage of water.
Sinkholes can either be just a few feet across, or in the case of the aforementioned instances in Gorton earlier this week, large enough to swallow whole vehicles and whole buildings.
Although they’re more often than not the result of natural processes, they can also be triggered by human activity too.
Are there different types of sinkhole?
The short answer is yes – there are two basic types of sinkhole.
There’s those that are created slowly over time, which are known as cover-subsidence sinkholes, and those that appear suddenly, which are known as a cover-collapse sinkhole, and as you’d expect, it’s the latter type that creates the sort of headlines we’ve seen this week and in recent years, but both varieties are formed by the same basic mechanism.
Why do they occur?
Now, this is where the real geological explanations have to come into it.
Sinkholes mainly occur in what is known as ‘karst terrain’ – areas of land where soluble bedrock, such as limestone or gypsum, can be dissolved by water.
With cover-subsidence sinkholes, the bedrock becomes exposed and is gradually worn down over time, with the holes often becoming ponds as the water fills them in, but with a cover-collapse sinkhole, this same process occurs out of our sight.
With cover-collapse sinkholes, naturally-occurring cracks and small voids underneath the surface are hollowed out by water erosion, with a cover of soil or sediment remaining over the top, and eventually, as the hole expands over time, this cover can no longer support its own weight and suddenly collapses to reveal the cavern that’s been hiding underneath.
Pothole vs Sinkhole
There are a number of differences between a pothole and a sinkhole, that aren’t just the size of the hole and the drama that goes along with it.
It was revealed earlier this month, thanks to a recent study by Manchester-based personal injury lawyers JMW Solicitors and data from fixmystreet.com, that as of January 2021, there were 7,114 reported open pothole cases reported across Greater Manchester – a whopping 2,356 of those being in the City of Manchester itself – with the situation only predicted to get worse, so it would seem that sinkholes aren’t the only recurring issue we have in the region.
But what is the difference between the two?
To keep it brief, and without repeating too much of what has already been explained, a sinkhole is a closed natural depression in the ground surface caused by removal of material below the ground, whereas a pothole is usually a fairly small feature caused by a failure of paving materials.
Potholes are known to become more abundant in late winter and spring due to freeze-thaw damage.
Why do we get so many sinkholes in Greater Manchester?
And now we’ve come down to the crux of it.
What is it about the region of Greater Manchester that seems to be revealing so many dangerous and damaging sinkholes in comparison to others? Well, according to Dr Domenico Lombardi – a lecturer in Geotechnical Engineering at the University of Manchester, who gave his two cents on the topic after the year of sinkhole mayhem that was 2016 – our sinkholes are not a natural phenomenon as much as they are man made.
It’s all about the number of old mines, sewers, a growing population and ongoing building works that we have going on in the region – and of course, increasing rainfall.
We know by now that sinkholes occur when underground cavities collapse, causing the failure of the ground above, but in Greater Manchester, our geology is mainly sand and sandstone – which are hardly soluble – so Dr Lombardi says we need to look to old mines and collieries, which are eroded during heavy rainfall or when there is a leaking water main or sewer pipe.
In these cases an underground cavity can form super quick, and the collapse can happen in a matter of hours – as was reported by United Utilities to the case in Abbey Hey yesterday.
Dr Lombardi said: “In recent years, an increasing number of sinkholes have been observed in Greater Manchester and in other regions of the United Kingdom. Arguably, this can be attributed to the increasing number of extreme rainfall events… flooding and an ageing utility infrastructure.”
Dr Lombardi recommends timely repairs and maintenance of piping, and a more sustainable drainage system, with more urban green areas too.
It’s hard to decipher for sure at this point whether the necessary action is being undertaken to prevent more dangerous and damaging sinkholes from opening up across the region – especially as the number of freak weather occurrences are becoming harder to predict – but with work now officially being underway on Manchester’s first city centre park in 100 years, and the City of Trees initiative – which will see three million trees planted across Greater Manchester as part of The Northern Forest – starting to take shape, there’s no denying that positive ground is being made.
Time will surely tell.
From musician to Manchester’s world-famous physicist | Brian Cox – Manc of the Month September 2022
You could see his distinct and unshakeable smile from space and recognise that softly-spoken voice anywhere. September’s Manc of the Month is none of other than Oldham’s very own Brian Cox.
The world-renowned physicist is the proud holder of an MBE and an acclaimed member of the Royal Society Fellowship whose fascinating but accessible work in science and particle physics, specifically, has seen him become a beloved TV personality and pop-culture icon.
Brian Cox: the physicist and celebrity astronomer
He’s been a familiar face on our TV screens for over a decade now. From Wonders of the Universe and Wonders of Life to Forces of Nature, Stargazing Live and more, Brian Cox has helped bring the world of science to millions watching at home.
His TV appearances aren’t just limited to documentaries though. He’s been on everything from late-night talk shows and Dr Who to becoming one of the very few Brits to appear on the controversial Joe Rogan’s podcast. He truly is the Carl Sagan of the 21st century.
The 54-year-old might share his name with another familiar TV face, but there’s no mistaking his quiet yet captivating ruminations for anyone else. Have you ever ever heard him explain time?
Speaking of podcasts, his award-winning show, The Infinite Monkey Cage Podcast – co-hosted by comedian Robin Ince – is now into its 24th series and has become one of the most successful audio series not just in the UK but on podcast platforms across the globe.
The informative but entertaining concept has become a live show and has featured special guests such as astronomy colleague Neil deGrasse Tyson, Sarah Pascoe, Eric Idle and many, many more.
The former musician
Though many people will have seen his face on the box or heard him on the radio in the past decade or so, there are plenty that are still unaware he has been on the airwaves long before he was the science guy.
Yes, that’s right, before he was Britain’s favourite brainbox, Mr Brian Cox was a rather successful musician in not one but two bands throughout the mid to late 80s and well into the 90s.
First came Dare, a rock band formed in his native town of Oldham by former Thin Lizzy keyboardist, Darren Wharton; they went on to record two albums during his time in the band. Look out for the guy in the back.
Beginning his studies shortly after, he then took another run at music fame by joining pop-rock and dance outfit D:Ream in 1993. Having contributed on two albums, the group eventually disbanded in 1997 playing with them until 1997 and he began his journey to becoming an instantly recognisable pop physicist.
Cox had already secured a first in physics from his alma mater back in 1995 and in 1998, not long after leaving the music biz, he got his PhD in High Energy Particle Physics for his work at the Hadron Elektron Ring Anlage (HERA) in Hamburg.
An academic through and through
All that being said, his various entertainment exploits have never stopped him from making a direct impact on the world of academia, as he remains a Professor of Particle Physics in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Manchester, running courses every year.
During the pandemic, specifically, he also did his part to keep students, kids and those stuck at home in general engaged with his Lockdown Learning and Lecture series. Very cool and very digestible; we might be back to walking free and learning normally but they’re still well worth giving a watch.
Just a year before he was made a lecturer at UoM in 2005, Brian even had the privilege of working on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland (you know, the Big Bang machine), acting as a senior physicist and co-spokesperson for a key research and development project between 2004 and 2009.
He played an important role in the ATLAS experiment which is still running and investigating everything from the Higgs Boson particle discovered in 2012, to dark matter and even alternate dimensions. In case it wasn’t abundantly clear at this point, the bloke is very smart.
It’s not an exaggeration when we say Brian has already done a lot for both UK and global science, especially in helping bring it further into the public eye. But more importantly for us Mancunians, he’s continued to be an active and important presence in the 0161 area.
As well as continuing to lecture hundreds of domestic students at the university that helped launch his career, his international and celebrity appeal draws thousands of applicants from all over the world to the Russell Group institution every year.
Moreover, his ‘Brian Cox: Horizons’ World Tour – which expands on his intellectual, highly entertaining and often comedic lecture format with an immersive audio-visual experience – came to Manchester earlier this week, much to the delight of his fans.
Taking the stage in front of thousands of people at massive arenas like the AO, he and podcast partner Ince dive deeper into astronomy and cosmology in a way that brings you closer to some of the most mind-boggling concepts in the universe.
Better still, even amidst a world tour, he somehow managed to find the time to speak to global news outlets on the biggest news in science, such as the stunning new images captured by the James Webb Space Telescope.
He is a jack of all trades, absolutely everywhere and best of all, he’s been helping put smart Mancs on the map for years now.
It may be long overdue but Brian Cox, you are our Manc of the Month.
Siam Smiles, the authentic Thai cafe on a Manchester backstreet
When Siam Smiles was still a little cafe in a Chinatown supermarket it received serious rave reviews. Since moving up to Deansgate Mews, however, it seems to have been forgotten about a little.
Most famously described as “the most exciting thing to happen since the days of the Hacienda” by Marina O’Loughlin in a 2014 review for The Guardian, owner May also made headlines for teaching herself to cook on Youtube after her chef left the business one month after opening.
National critics, like O’Loughin and others, were seemingly drawn in by the cafe’s novelty – not one review missed the opportunity to mention the supermarket, or tell you how the ingredients in the dishes were often the same as the ones on the shelves.
But since it has moved over to The Mews, an oft-forgotten back street within the Great Northern Warehouse complex, the reviews have gone suspiciously quiet – so we thought we’d pop in to see if it’s all still up to scratch.
Spoiler alert, it definitely is.
Two years after that rave review from O’Loughlin, rising bills forced the cafe to close – but with a little help, May reopened in 2016 at the Great Northern Warehouse. It’s here that you’ll still find her cooking up a storm today.
With bills firmly on the rise once again, we thought we’d pop in to shine a light on this longstanding Mancunian gem and are happy to report her food hasn’t faltered one iota.
We went for stir fried chicken Pad Ka Paow with jasmine rice and a fried egg, and a steaming bowl of KuiiTiwe Moo Nam Tok with fresh egg noodles and roasted duck breast, with two glasses of Singha on the side.
We also couldn’t help but opt for a hearty portion of green papaya salad with dried shrimps, a dish that’s hard to find but something of a speciality here, as well as a second glass noodle salad with plump prawns and minced pork.
The dressings, always made by May herself, completely hit the spot with their balance of hot, sour, salty and sweet.
We strongly recommend you pop in and show Siam Smiles some love. It’s not all just about the shiny new restaurants, after all. We need to treasure the veterans too – and this is one we need to protect at all costs.
Find the cafe on Deansgate Mews Unit G Upper Level ,Great Northern, 253, Deansgate, Manchester M3 4EN.