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subsidence

subsidence, lowering of a portion of the earth's crust. The subsidence of land areas over time has resulted in submergence by shallow seas (see oceans). Land subsidence can occur naturally or through human activity. Natural subsidence may occur when limestone, which is easily carved by underground water, collapses, leaving sink holes on the surface, such as in Florida. Earthquakes can also cause subsidence of the land because of the movement of faults. Permafrost, or the permanently frozen ground in tundra regions, can subside during local warming trends, a phenomena called thermokarst. Oceanic crust produced at spreading ridges (see seafloor spreading) subsides after cooling, as do calderas, the craterlike features at a volcano's peak. An atoll is a coral reef that forms a ring with no apparent central peak and may form when volcanic islands subside—an explanation first proposed by Charles Darwin. Human activity has contributed greatly to subsidence over the last few centuries. For example, withdrawal of oil from the field at Long Beach, California, beginning in 1936 resulted in subsidence at rates ranging from 0.5 to 2.0 ft (0.15–0.61 m) per yr in the center of the field. By 1962 the center of the oil field had subsided slightly over 27 ft (8.5 m), caused by the removal of fluid from the pore spaces in the underground rock, allowing the grains to compact. Similarly, withdrawal of groundwater through well pumping has resulted in subsidence in such cities as Mexico City, Houston, Tex., and Venice, Italy. Subsidence is also caused by the collapse of underground salt, ore, and coal mines.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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