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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.


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

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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

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. Defining the Problem Sinkholes, which abound in...

Fig 1. A NPS ranger leads visitors into the mouth of Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky.

Geologic maps are being used in Kentucky to identify areas that have high potential for development of karst features, such as sinkholes and caves. Defining the Problem A new interstate highway, I-66, is being planned to pass through the vicinity of Mammoth Cave National Park (Fig. 1). It is one of...