Travellers on the M2 experienced disruption on Tuesday when a 15 foot –deep sinkhole appeared on a central reservation between junctions 5 and 6 near Sittingbourne, Kent.
The Highway Agency is currently carrying out repairs on the 16 by 6 foot hole, and are attempting to discover the cause, a spokesman said.
It is thought the heavy rainfall may have been behind the sinkhole.
Drivers were warned on Tuesday evening of delays of 15 minutes eastbound and 30 minutes westbound in the area, while traffic heading to and from Dover should use the M20 instead.
Most areas in the UK susceptible to sinkholes are relatively small or are in upland rural locations. They have also been known to occur in areas including the Mendips, parts of Wales, and the northern Pennines including the Yorkshire Dales.
Old coalmine shafts in Yorkshire have been known to cause holes which could “theoretically” be the case in Kent but is it “more likely to be related” to the probable chalk or limestone make-up of the area along with the rainfall, according to Sarah Fray, director of Engineering and Technical Services at the Institution of Structural Engineers.
She described the M2 hole as “unpredictable” adding that “it could potentially not be visible when there was construction and water has been know to be a mobilising influence” to cause an underground cavity to collapse.
Sinkholes around the world
Sinkholes around the world
1/9 Dunedin, Florida
The rear portion of a residential home is consumed by a sink-hole November 14, 2013. According to reports, the large sink-hole began to form between two houses the morning of November 14, and grew to size of about 30 feet wide by 30 feet deep
2/9 Clermont, Florida
A building sits partially collapsed over a sink-hole at Summer Bay Resort near Disney World on August 12, 2013. The 40 to 60 foot sink-hole opened up under the resort building reportedly begining late August 11 into early August 12. There were no injuries or deaths reported
Gerardo Mora/Getty Images
3/9 Shenzhen, China
Rescuers prepare to move a dead body found in a sink-hole on a road on May 21, 2013. Five people died when a 33 feet wide sink-hole opened up at the gates of an industrial estate in Shenzhen, the southern Chinese boom town neighbouring Hong Kong
4/9 Chicago, Illinois
Workers prepare to pull a truck from a sink-hole that opened up on a residential street in the South Deering neighborhood on April 18, 2013. The driver of the truck was hospitalized after driving into the 15-feet-deep hole while on his way to work. Two other vehicles were also swallowed by the sink-hole
Scott Olson/Getty Images
5/9 Guangzhou, China
Workers use machinery to fill in a sink-hole that buildings collapsed into near a subway construction site. The hole measured about 1,000 square feet across and was around 30 feet deep, but no one was killed, according to a state media report
6/9 The Dead Sea, Israel
sink-holes created by the drying of the Dead Sea, near Kibbutz Ein Gedi, on November 10, 2011
Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images
7/9 Guatemala City, Guatemala
A man inspects a sink-hole formed in a house on July 19, 2011 in the north of Guatemala City. When neighbors heard the loud boom overnight they thought a cooking gas canister had detonated. Instead they found a deep sink-hole the size of a large pot. The sink-hole was 40 feet deep and 32 inches in diamete
Johan Ordonez/AFP/Getty Images
8/9 Beijing, China
Workers use excavators to fill in a sink-hole which occured overnight on Shiliuzhuang road, in Beijing on April 26, 2011. A section of the road collapsed beneath a truck, slightly injuring the driver and a passenger, who both jumped out of the vehicle before it sank into the hole
9/9 Chevy Chase, Maryland
Utlity workers examine the scene of a car caught in a sink-hole caused by a broken water main, which collapsed part of Friendship Blvd. on December 3, 2010. No one was reported injured in the accident
Logan Mock-Bunting/Getty Images
She said: “Chalk and limestone is alkaline and rainwater is acidic - if you put acidic water on it, it dissolves over a period of time which can happen over a millenia”.
Areas of chalk can be susceptible to sink holes especially where it is covered by younger clay and sand deposits. Ms Fray said: “ Then when you have a lot of rain, this can mobilise the soil”.
In December 2013, torrential rain caused a 130-ft deep sinkhole to form in the Peak District, after a growing hole part of the old Mill Dam Lead Mine near Buxton, Derbyshire, caved in overnight.
Dr Vanessa Banks, of the British Geological Survey, said: “This process occurs over thousands of years."
"During this period the growing void in the chalk remains bridged by the overlying deposits until infiltrating water is sufficient to physically remove the finest particles into the underlying void, thereby destabilising the 'soil bridge' and ultimately resulting in total collapse of the 'soil bridge' into the void."
”If surface water drainage was finding its way into such a feature, as is likely in a motorway setting, this would increase the likelihood of collapse," she added.
Earlier this month a sinkhole measuring 30ft (9m) deep swallowed up a car after opening up on the driveway of a house in High Wycombe.Nobody was inside the VW Lupo when the ground on Main Road in Walter's Ash gave way.
Firefighters said the hole was about 15ft (4.5m) diameter.
Additional reporting by PAReuse content