Sinkholes

Sinkholes have both natural and artificial causes. They tend to occur most often in places where water can dissolve the bedrock (especially limestone) below the surface, causing overlying rocks to collapse. Florida, Texas, Alabama, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania are most sinkhole-prone.

Basics

A sinkhole in front of a home in Kentucky. Image Credit: FEMA/Photo by Rob Melendez

Most sinkholes occur in places where water can dissolve the rock below the surface, for example where the bedrock is limestone, salt, or gypsum. They can collapse very quickly, or slump slowly over time. Many sinkholes occur naturally, but human activities can also cause them. Over-pumping of groundwater, mining, and leaking pipes beneath roads and buildings are common causes of artificial sinkholes.   Read more

Frequently Asked Questions

Latest News

Interactive map of geoscience features in Kentucky. Image Credit: Kentucky Geological Survey
(2016-10-17)
#MapOfTheDay! Today the Critical Issues Program (@AGI_GeoIssues) shared an interactive map of geoscience features in Kentucky from the Kentucky Geological Survey (@KGSNews), which you can find at http://bit.ly/1HvVsFA. The Karst Potential Map includes the locations of sinkholes throughout the...

Case Studies & Factsheets

Fig. 1. Sinkholes in collapsed parking area, Frederick, MD. Sinkholes form in carbonate areas as the dissolving and weakening of bedrock cause it to collapse. Credit: D.K. Brezinksi

Defining the Problem Sinkholes, which abound in the Frederick Valley in west-central Maryland, impact urban growth and development (Fig. 1). Sinkholes form in carbonate areas as the dissolving and weakening of bedrock cause it to collapse. Activities, such as quarrying, which alter surface...

Research Database Publications

Cover of em_v16_n1; Source: New Mexico Bureau of Geology & Mineral Resources
2016, New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources (NMBGMR)
The majority of New Mexicans probably regard sinkholes as an exotic geohazard that occurs far away in other parts of the country. In places such as Florida or Kentucky, sinkholes have opened beneath and “swallowed” houses, roads, and classic Corvettes in the National Corvette Museum (which occurred...
Cover image of report; Image credit: NCKRI
2012, National Cave and Karst Research Institute (NCKRI)
In October 2012, Intrepid Potash Company was in the process of constructing a well pad, access road, and pipeline for an injection well as part of a larger potash solution mining project in eastern Eddy County, New Mexico. During excavation of the pipeline trench, Intrepid employees discovered a...
Living with Unstable Ground, AGI
2009, American Geosciences Institute (AGI)
Most of us take the stability of the ground for granted. However, many ongoing natural processes and human activities, and occasionally complex combinations of both, displace the ground. Whether ground displacements are large and catastrophic or small and slow, their cumulative impact during the...
Cover image of report; Image credit: NCKRI
2014, National Cave and Karst Research Institute (NCKRI)
Following flooding in September 2013, several areas along Lakewood Road and Lake Road in northern Eddy County, New Mexico, were damaged by multiple sinkhole collapses. Pettigrew & Associates contracted NCKRI to conduct electrical resistivity (ER) surveys for cavities to guide road repairs....
Living with Karst- A Fragile Foundation, AGI
2001, American Geosciences Institute (AGI)
Although the term "karst" is not widely known, nearly 25% of the world's population lives in karst areas. Living With Karst, the 4th book in the AGI Environmental Awareness Series vividly illustrates what karst is and why karst areas are important. The booklet also discusses karst-related...
Cover of GF31; Source: Ohio Geological Survey
2015, Ohio Geological Survey (OGS)
Karst is a little-known but unique and important landform that can be found throughout the state of Ohio. Regions that contain sinkholes and other solutional features, such as caves, springs, disappearing streams, and enlarged fractures, are known as karst terrains. Sinkholes form as bedrock...
Fig 1. A NPS ranger leads visitors into the mouth of Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky.
2004, American Geosciences Institute (AGI)
Geologic maps are being used in Kentucky to identify areas that have high potential for development of karst features, such as sinkholes and caves. 
Cover of OFR 2015-1; Source: Ohio Geological Survey
2015, Ohio Geological Survey (OGS)
Karst terrain forms by dissolution of carbonate rocks, such as limestone or dolomite, or evaporites, such as gypsum or salt, and is characterized by features including sinkholes, disappearing streams, caves, and springs. Sinkholes (or sinks) are enclosed depressions that do not usually hold water;...
Cover image of report; Image credit: NCKRI
2011, National Cave and Karst Research Institute (NCKRI)
On July 16, 2008, a brine well cavity in northern Eddy County, New Mexico abruptly collapsed. The resulting sinkhole engulfed the brine well and associated structures, and ultimately grew to ~111 m in diameter with an estimated depth of 45 m. Jim’s Water Service, an oil field service company, had...
Fig. 1. Sinkholes in collapsed parking area, Frederick, MD. Sinkholes form in carbonate areas as the dissolving and weakening of bedrock cause it to collapse. Credit: D.K. Brezinksi
2004, American Geosciences Institute (AGI)
Although sinkhole development in susceptible areas cannot be completely prevented, policy makers and the public can use geologic maps that delineate karst features to develop strategies that can minimize or avoid property damage and personal injuries.