Sinkholes

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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.

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...

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

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 the nation’s most popular parks and is also extremely vulnerable to environmental impacts. This area is a classic karst terrain characterized by...

Research Database Publications

Cover of karst ; Source: New Jersey Geological Survey
2014, New Jersey Geological Survey (NJGS)
The topography of New Jersey varies from the rugged mountainous Highlands to the gently undulating Coastal Plain (fig. 1). A unique topography known as karst occurs in areas of the State underlain by soluble rocks.
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
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...
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
2014, National Cave and Karst Research Institute (NCKRI)
The Guadalupe Mountains have been the focus and leading international example of hydrogen sulfide speleogenesis. Despite the hundreds of published studies on the region, important questions remain. Douglas Kirkland answers many of those questions through his decades of experience with the geology...
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
2011, National Cave and Karst Research Institute (NCKRI)
Las Cruces is one of the largest towns in the department of Petén in northern Guatemala (Figure 1). Heavy rainfall associated with a hurricane in 2008 and a tropical depression in 2010 caused severe flooding, resulting in displacement of 7,000 residents. An Engineers Without Borders (EWB) team...
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.
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....
Cover of RI 75 ; Source: Maryland Geological Survey
2004, Maryland Geological Survey (MGS)
From these data, a relative scale of karst susceptibility was developed to assist land-use planners, developers, and the public in recognizing areas of high karst susceptibility. The Ceresville, Woodsboro, and Fountain Rock members of the Grove Formation and the Lime Kiln Member of the Frederick...