Sinkholes are common in Florida as much of our state sits on highly porous carbonate rock. Though they are a natural geological feature, sinkholes are developing more frequently as a result of human activities.

What’s going on?

Sinkholes are a naturally occurring geological feature that is common in Florida. Much of our state sits on a bedrock of carbonate rock, primarily made of highly porous limestone. As water dissolves the limestone, it creates cracks and holes in the stone. The soil above then seeps down causing a pit to form. Much of central Florida has so many sinkholes that it has earned the nickname “sinkhole alley.”

Why it matters

As a result of climate change and land development, sinkhole formation in Florida is increasing. Periods of severe drought followed by intense rainfall can destabilize the ground leading to major outbreaks of new sinkholes opening. As the sea level rises, groundwater rises along with it, increasing the flooding of sinkholes further.

Even in times of moderate weather, man-made development increases the likelihood of sinkholes.

The equipment used in development can divert rainwater to areas more susceptible to sinkhole formation, the weight of buildings can press upon weak spots in the ground, and pumping groundwater disrupts the water table – a boundary between the soil and the area where groundwater saturates the carbonate rock below.

Sinkhole formation is unpredictable and they can form very quickly, leading to property damage, injury or even loss of life.

Unexpected Sinkhole formation can also have ramifications for the environment as the sinkhole collects runoff polluted by substances including pesticides, gasoline, and fertilizers.

In 2016, a sinkhole about 100 feet wide and 300 feet deep opened at a central Florida fertilizer plant, which resulted in water that contained low-level radiation and other pollutants into the Florida aquifer (Florida’s primary source of drinking water).

What you can do

Info from Conserve Energy Future, Foundation Professionals of Florida, NPR, Sinkhole Maps, Smithsonian Magazine, Southwest Florida Water Management District, and WFLA news.