Sinkhole Forms on White House Lawn. Blame the Swamp. Really.
Posted May 22, 2018 8:59 p.m. EDT
A sinkhole has formed on the North Lawn of the White House, and predictably, the temptation was too great for many on social media, who filled the void with all the “drain the swamp” jokes and metaphors one could imagine.
But forget the obvious political jabs and the fact that President Donald Trump uses that phrase as a rallying cry about eliminating corruption in Washington: The saying has some geological merit.
There is a “legitimate swamp” around the White House, Jess Phoenix, a volcanologist, geologist and a Democrat running for a congressional seat in California, said Tuesday.
Phoenix said that while sinkholes often form in regions with precarious bedrock like limestone, such as in Texas and Florida, the geology in Washington is different but still susceptible, particularly given the substantial amount of recent rainfall. “It’s all river deposits,” she said.
“It’s sort of fluids interacting with solids, and gravity taking effect,” she added, “not the gates of hell opening.”
Almost exactly one year ago, a sinkhole opened in Palm Beach, Florida, outside of the Mar-a-Lago estate, which Trump owns and where he regularly visits. It formed near a newly installed water main, city officials said at the time.
On Tuesday, the image of the North Lawn sinkhole that initially gained traction on Twitter was posted by Steve Herman, the White House bureau chief for Voice of America, who said it had been “growing larger by the day.”
Some sinkholes, Phoenix said, can be huge — “tens of meters across, swallowing cars and buses” — but for now, the one at the White House is relatively small.
On Twitter, Phoenix, a founder of Blueprint Earth, a research organization, elaborated on the science of what’s beneath 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.: “The White House sits at the intersection of a Quaternary colluvium (base of steep slope) deposit & a Pleistocene fluvial (river) & estuarine deposit. It’s built on poorly consolidated sediments, not bedrock. Sinkholes happen.”
Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles, a spokeswoman for the National Park Service, national capital region, confirmed on Tuesday that the sinkhole was near the entrance to the press briefing room and said that the area would be excavated in the next five to 10 days — “to get a better look.”
Contrary to some accounts on Twitter, the White House was not aware of a second sinkhole on the property, Anzelmo-Sarles said.
In a statement posted on Twitter on Tuesday, Anzelmo-Sarles said that the sinkhole was first discovered Sunday and had since been monitored by the National Park Service, which is “bringing in some additional experts to help best determine a remedy.”
“Sinkholes, like this one, are common occurrences in Washington following heavy rain like the D.C. metro area has experienced in the last week,” she said. “We do not believe it poses any risk to the White House or is representative of a larger problem.”