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Sinkhole Maps Will Show State's Vulnerability

Florida Geological Survey

Florida is susceptible to sinkholes because so much of our landscape sits on rocks that dissolve easily, such as limestone.

The Florida Geological Survey is building a map to show the risk of sinkholes around the state. The project is the result of what happened last year after Tropical Storm Debby.

Florida was enduring an extended drought when Debby brought record-rainfall in June of 2012. All that water weighed down the soil and loosened the dry limestone and other porous rock underneath. The result: a lot of sinkholes.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency gave state geologists a $1.1 million grant to find Florida’s most vulnerable areas.

The project is “an important hazard mitigation planning tool,” said Dr. Jon Arthur, Florida Geological Survey Director. “There is a national interest in our innovative approach to this project.”

Geologist Clint Kromhout is helping lead the project. He says his work is a lot like a doctor.

“The doctor looks for a list of symptoms and the symptoms kind of point him towards one particular cold or another,” Kromhout said. “[The] symptoms here show the strongest correlation to a particular problem, this problem in this case being a sinkhole formation.”

The fieldwork has begun in three counties in North Florida. Columbia, Hamilton, and Suwannee were chosen for the pilot study because of their diverse landscapes. After a year, the project will move to the rest of the state.

Geologists will gather data and use a modeling method called “Weights of Evidence” to determine vulnerability. Kromhout says emergency managers will use the information to help reduce the risk to life and property. Homebuyers may benefit, too.

“The user could look at this map and maybe they wouldn’t want to buy a home in an area that might be rated as potentially a little higher for sinkhole formation,” Kromhout said.

The project will take three years to complete.

Have a question about sinkholes? Visit the Florida Geological Survey online or call 850-617-0301.