Latvian whirlpool – Who pulled the plug?

Well this story is appearing all over. It is showing up (scraped word for word from this piece in the Huffington Post) on “end of the world” type sites. It is scary but even in PA, I’ve seen this phenomenon before.

Whirlpool Video: Vortex In Latvian River Devours All That Enters.

Set in Dviete, Latvia, near the banks of the Daugava River, the video depicts a mysterious whirlpool churning — and destroying — all that enters.

Huge chunks of ice? Gone. Floating islands of debris? Annihilated.

“Swallowing everything dragged towards its direction,” reads the description by Jānis Astičs, “this monstrous whirlpool looks as if a plug has been pulled from the ground beneath.”

Here is the video:

Upon first look at this, I immediately suspected what it might be. Then, other articles noted that comments in the Huffington Post piece may have hit on the same – it’s possible a result of the karstic bedrock underneath.  Openings exist in the solutioned bedrock underground. Connected passageways can drain water or loose surface material above. It appears that there has been significant rainfall or ice melt here. Spring is the prime time for sinkholes to form – the ground thaws, water washes surface materials down into openings in the rock below. But why is this water disappearing? Well, the groundwater level would be BELOW the level of the stream in this particular location. There could be many reasons why that happens including low rainfall previously, groundwater pumping from wells or industry, etc. Abundant limestone deposits of the area lend evidence that this may be the case.

I have observed the same feature, swirling water even forming a depression such as this, in streams in Pennsylvania. It occurs where there is active sinkhole development in the stream. The groundwater table was depressed so when an opening in the ‘perched’ stream bed was breached, down the water went. In some places, karstic conditions underground can accomodate the ENTIRE stream flow. The stream reappears most often as springs in a (hydrologically) lower area. This is not unusual but it can be disruptive and damaging to wildlife and property, not to mention the stream bed. I have heard colleagues tell of fish being sucked into a swallet hole like this and you can certainly imagine that could have happened here.

latvia whirlpool

The Latvian whirlpool

Here is an example in shallower water where you can see the hole draining the water.

Photo: USGS

Photo: USGS

And here is an example of what happens when the creek bank fails.

  7 comments for “Latvian whirlpool – Who pulled the plug?

  1. RDW
    April 27, 2013 at 8:27 PM

    Definitely not a good spot to go skinny dipping !! I could watch this all night.

  2. April 27, 2013 at 9:01 PM

    There WAS an explanation published, I just can’t remember where. It is something similar to a manhole along side the road that the people are standing on watching the spring thaw flood event. You can see bushes that obviously are under water that wouldn’t be there, several hundred feet from the actual river in the distance.

  3. One Eyed Jack
    April 28, 2013 at 5:56 AM

    Great story Sharon. There’s something hypnotic about this.

    I wonder how large the hole is beneath the surface? With the size of the whirlpool I would guess at least a meter, but I’m just guessing.

  4. Chris Howard
    April 28, 2013 at 9:56 AM

    The eight year old kid in me wants to desperately go there and throw stuff in the river, just to watch it get sucked down the vortex!

    Of course I also wanted to be the guy in the Godzilla suit, when I grew up, and that hasn’t happened, either.

    Of course I can’t say that I’ve actually grown up. I digress.

  5. April 28, 2013 at 5:15 PM

    I recall a South American case in which a lake suddenly drained away like that (but on a larger scale). Turned out that a hole had breached a coal mine below it.

  6. One Eyed Jack
    April 28, 2013 at 7:04 PM

    Thinking about this story more, I got curious about the salt mines around the Great Lakes. In reading up on that, I came across this video about the 1980 Lake Peigneur disaster in Lousiana.

    Also, the wiki page

    Fascinating event that I never heard of before.

  7. Mark Schrammel
    May 3, 2013 at 2:51 PM

    The answers here are too complicated. The video only shows 120 deg. of horizon. Clearly a flooded area near a rather large river. The firm embankment so close to the drain and the abundant lack of caution in the viewers suggest that this is a culvert or similar, next to a roadbed or levee. It would be nice for the camera to pan 360.

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