A 2-Mile Crack in the Arizona Desert Is Growing

Here you can see a portion of the crack that has slowly been widening since 2014. You get a sense of how big it is when you look at the people on the left side of the image. (Photo: Arizona Geological Survey)

An enormous, 2-mile-long fissure in the Arizona Desert is growing, but don't worry: the Gates of Hell aren't opening just yet.

Geologists with the Arizona Geological Survey (AZGS) first discovered the crack while examining Google Earth images from 2014. Upon closer inspection this year, using GPS mapping and an aerial drone, they were surprised to find that the fissure was not only longer than expected, but increasing in size.

"Some areas are about 10 feet across and up to 25-30 feet deep, while others are a narrow surface crack less than an inch across," Joseph Cook, a geologist with the Arizona Geological Survey, told LiveScience. "These narrow sections sometimes have open voids underground, so collapse of the overlying material is possible — this is how the deep open portions of the fissure formed."

It's all about water

Arizona Desert
This fissure in the desert was likely caused by the depletion of an underground aquifer. (Photo: Arizona Geological Survey)

While the size of this particular fissure is unusual, the occurrence itself is rather common in this region of the United States. Cracks of varying sizes generally open when local populations or agricultural operations draw water from underground aquifers faster than can be replaced. Over time, especially during powerful rain storms, the underlying sedimentary rocks can fail and collapse, creating dramatic surface expressions on the desert landscape.

"We see earth fissures forming around the margins of these subsidence areas and along mountain fronts within the subsidence areas," Cook added. Over the last several decades, the AZGS has mapped some 170 miles of fissures in the region.

Despite the fissure's remote location, it could still pose a threat for those driving recreational vehicles or grazing cattle. Cook also recommends that people do not attempt to get close to the crack itself, as the sides are quite unstable and could collapse.

You can view drone footage of the impressive fissure below.