Sinkholes in the News

New sinkholes have been correlated to land-use practices (Newton, 1986). Induced sinkholes are conceptually divided into two types: those resulting from ground-water pumping (Sinclair, 1982) and those related to construction and development practices. Modified drainage and diverted surface water commonly accompany construction activities and can lead to focused infiltration of surfacerunoff, flooding, and erosion of sinkhole prone earth materials. Manmade impoundments used to treat or store industrial process water, sewage effluent, or runoff can also create a significant increase in the load bearing on the supporting geologic materials, causing sinkholes to form. Other construction activities that can induce sinkholes include the erection of structures, well drilling, dewatering foundations, and mining.

The overburden sediments that cover buried cavities in the aquifer systems are delicately balanced by ground-water fluid pressure. In sinkhole-prone areas, the lowering of ground-water levels, increasing the load at land surface, or some combination of the two may contribute to structural failure and cause sinkholes.
Aggressive pumping induces sinkholes
Aggressive pumping can induce sinkholes by abruptly changing ground-water levels and disturbing the equilibrium between a buried cavity and the overlying earth materials (Newton, 1986). Rapid declines in water levels can cause a loss of fluid-pressure support, bringing more weight to bear on the soils and rocks spanning buried voids. As the stresses on these supporting materials increase, the roof may fail and the cavity may collapse, partially filling with the overburden material.

Prior to water-level declines, incipient sinkholes are in a marginally stable stress equilibrium with the aquifer system. In addition to providing support, the presence of water increases the cohesion of sediments. When the water table is lowered, unconsolidated sediments may dry out and coarser-grained sediments, in particular, may
move easily into openings.

Induced sinkholes are generally cover-collapse type sinkholes and tend to occur abruptly. They have been forming at increasing rates during the past several decades and pose potential hazards in developed and developing areas of west-central Florida. The increasing incidence of induced sinkholes is expected to continue as our demand for ground-water and land resources increases. Regional declines of ground-water levels increase sinkhole occurrence in sinkhole-prone regions. This becomes more apparent during the natural, recurring periods of low annual rainfall and drought.
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