Facts about Florida Sinkholes
Sinkholes are one of the most common landforms in Florida. They are a naturally occurring, normal geologic event that can pose great danger to homes and buildings. Many sinkholes develop naturally throughout Florida, yet in recent years sinkholes have seemed to develop with a much greater frequency - occurred at the same time Florida experienced a huge increase in home building construction, and use of water resources.

Sinkholes Like Drains
A sinkhole occurring in a field or in a farm grove is at best annoying or a nuisance. A sinkhole occurring in a neighborhood, under a street or highway, or around homes or buildings can be a disaster and cause substantial damage to home property and structures. Sinkholes can impact the environment, and they can often act like a natural "drain" and deplete surface rivers, streams and lakes by transferring the surface water directly into below ground aquifers - without the normal filtering that usually occurs to ground water before it enters the aquifer. Some Florida hydro-geologists even believe that many “lakes” or “drainage ponds” are really hidden sinkholes.

Ground Water Use
Much of Florida’s fresh water is obtained from these below ground aquifers - fresh water circulates into and out of storage in voids in and below the limestone layers underlying Florida. As greater population growth requires more and more water usage, ground water levels can drop to precipitously low levels, causing a sudden acceleration in sinkhole growth. In January 2010, Florida was hit with a 9 day cold weather snap, which caused strawberry and citrus farmers to begin emergency watering of their crops in unpredicted amounts. Millions of gallons of water were quickly pumped out of the Florida aquifer, and water tables dropped an astounding 60 feet!

This massive and sudden drainage of the water table caused about 100 sinkholes to suddenly open up throughout the East Tampa, Brandon, and Plant City areas. While these surface sinkholes were devastating and caused numerous homes to collapse and be condemned, even more disturbing and extensive is the long term damage caused to the subsurface soils in the Plant City area, which will likely continue to cause damage to homes and structures for years to come.

Limestone is alkaline. Rainwater is acidic. As the acidic rainwater pass through the limestone, it causes the limestone to slowly break down and dissolve.

The limestone is slowly dissolved and weathered over millions of years, perhaps as quickly as a few millimeters annually. The dissolution and weather process which causes sinkholes is known as the geological term "karst." Karst topography includes springs, caves, disappearing streams, internally drained basins - and sinkholes!

Types Of Sinkholes
Sinkholes typically fall into four categories:

Dissolution Sinkholes - depressions in the limestone surface caused by the chemical erosion of limestone.

Cover-Subsidence sinkholes - formed over time as overhead materials slowly and gradually fill in surface voids and cavities.

In fact, most lakes in Florida are actually sinkholes - they are subsidence depressions that have slowly formed over time, and water has formed in the depression bowl. Some storm water runoff lakes are in fact sinkhole drains - designed to quickly drain storm water into the aquifer.  

Cover-Collapse Sinkholes - formed by movement of overlying cover soils into subsurface voids, but instead of happening slowly, a cover collapse sinkhole typically will occur very rapidly.

Sinkholes Seasonal
Since water has such a huge impact on sinkhole formation, it is understandable that sinkhole formation typically can follow the "wet" or "dry" seasons of Florida weather. Most sinkholes occur when groundwater levels are particularly low - such as during prolonged droughts or during the dry season from January through May. In fact, from 1948 through 1997, most new sinkholes formed in April and May - the end of the "dry" season, and also in January - when nightly freezes and frost can lead to excessive plant watering, thus depleting the ground water levels.

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