Arizona news media are buzzing suddenly with the release of some spectacular video of a new, expanding earth fissure in the desert near Picacho Peak.
Shot by geoscientist Brian Gootee of the Arizona Geological Survey (AZGS), the drone video depicts a classic aerial shot of the 1.8-mile long fissure before zooming down below the ground-level rim, providing some sensational inside views of the earthly phenomenon.
The video can be viewed here, here, here, here and here. And, notably, here.
The fissure, located about ten miles southwest of Picacho Peak State Park in southern Pinal County, is the latest fissure discovered in an area of the desert where they are becoming plentiful. In places, the nearly two-mile-long fissure is up to ten feet wide and 30 feet deep.
Fissures can pose a hazard to hikers and people riding off-road vehicles in the area. Cattle grazing in the area also are in jeopardy of falling into some of the larger fissures.
Fissures also tend to erode quickly, especially during torrential rains, and can act as a conduit for storm runoff into the area’s underground aquifers.
The Arizona Department of Water Resources Land Subsidence Monitoring Report No. 3, which the department featured in the January 12 issue of Arizona Water News, identified numerous fissures in southern Pinal County, including one north of the Picacho Mountains.
The large earth-crack depicted in the video is oriented roughly north and south. It appears to have begun forming between March 2013 and December 2014, according to the AZGS geoscientists who first examined the fissure.
The newer part of the Picacho fissure -- much of which the drone traverses at below-the-rim levels -- appears to have formed within the last six months, judging by the lack of erosion around its rims, as well as a lack of vegetation.
“The earth fissures are a result of land subsidence which is caused by excessive groundwater use,” said Brian Conway, supervisor for the Water Resources Geophysics/Surveying Unit. Conway worked closely with the AZGS geoscientists in preparing the department’s subsidence report.
“This earth fissure was an extension of an earth fissure that was discovered using 2014 imagery by Joe Cook at the AZGS,” said Conway.
“This was Joe Cook’s first chance to visit the earth fissure and discover the newer extension of the earth fissure.”
According to Conway, AZGS researchers never before have used drone-video technology while mapping out an earth fissure.
Water Resources cooperates closely with AZGS in investigating and monitoring earth fissures and land subsidence. Much of their work is mapped out using a revolutionary satellite-based radar technology known as InSAR.
Modern technology clearly changes our understanding of earth-bound phenomena like fissures by giving us perspectives we didn’t have previously.
Camera-carrying drones, for example, allow us to examine the fresh walls of earth fissures as if we were hiking through a Colorado Plateau slot canyon.
“Perspective” works in both directions. Just as a drone can descend below the rim of a new fissure, satellite-based photo technology literally can lift a viewer’s perspective off the planet’s surface. Click on this satellite image
“Perspective” works in both directions. Just as a drone can descend below the rim of a new fissure, satellite-based photo technology literally can lift a viewer’s perspective off the planet’s surface. Click on this satellite image of the Picacho fissure, in an image created circa 2014, and roll your mouse wheel as far back as it will go. Talk about a unique, out-of-this-world perspective!