National Geographic News
Kim Russell, left, who lives nearby on Gilbralter Street and her mother Betty Box both examine the massive sinkhole that opened on Eldridge Road in Spring Hill, Fla.,  Saturday. T

Neighbors examine a massive sinkhole that opened up on Eldridge Road in Spring Hill, Florida, on July 19, 2014.

Photograph by Octavio Jones, The Tampa Bay Times Via Associated Press

Brian Clark Howard

National Geographic

Published July 24, 2014

Last Saturday, a massive sinkhole swallowed part of a residential neighborhood in Spring Hill, Florida, about 45 miles (72 kilometers) north of Tampa. No one was injured, but a pair of houses suffered damage, and four families had to evacuate.

The circular sinkhole is about 40 yards (37 meters) across and 30 feet (9 meters) deep, says Virginia Singer, a spokesperson for the local Hernando County government.

"No one thing in particular triggered the sinkhole that we are aware of," she says. "It's an occurrence that happens in this part of Florida."

Nearly 300 sinkholes have opened up in the Sunshine State since 2010 and thousands over the past century.

Denise Moloney, a spokesperson with the Hernando County Sheriff's Office, says her department advises residents to be on the lookout for signs of potential sinkholes, such as cracks or slumping.

But sometimes there are no warnings, she says, and sometimes what seem like signs aren't. "Just because you have a crack in your house doesn't mean your house is going to fall into a sinkhole," she says. "That's very rare."

Coastal western Florida is especially prone to sinkholes because its soil doesn't contain a lot of clay, which can help hold the layers together, says Clint Kromhout, a geologist with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Instead, the area tends to have sandy soil on top of limestone.

Subsidence Incidents in Florida Since 1909

Map of sinkholes in Florida
The Florida Geological Survey maintains a statewide database of depressions that people have reported. Land can slump for many reasons. Pumping too much groundwater can drop the water table, pipes can break and wash away subsurface soil, buried debris can decay and shrink, the soil can become overly compacted. Most such depressions are called subsidence incidents. True sinkholes, which have to be verified by a licensed geologist, are a specific type of subsidence that occurs in karst areas after water dissolves rock below the surface.

When groundwater dissolves some of the limestone, it creates caves. Eventually the overlying sandy layers may no longer be able to support their own weight, says Kromhout, and they collapse, forming a sinkhole. (See "Why Sinkholes Open Up.")

Hazardous Holes

A truck hangs over the edge of a sinkhole that opened up in the parking lot of Hughes Relocation Services, Monday, June 25, 2012, in Salt Springs, Fla.
Photograph by Alan Youngblood, The Ocala Star-Banner VIa Associated Press

The sinkhole above opened up in June 2012 in a parking lot in Salt Springs, Florida, which is also in the Tampa Bay region. Tropical Storm Debby had pelted the area with up to two feet of rain in a few days.

Clint Kromhout says heavy rains tend to make sinkholes more likely, because they can destabilize soil, leading to its collapse.

He adds that sinkholes sometimes leave clues as they're forming. "Look for dying patches of grass or shrubs that may suggest the water table has suddenly gone down," he says. Tilting trees or fence posts, new cracks in sidewalks or foundations, and doors or windows that don't shut properly can also be signs.

"It needs to be a collection of things, not just one thing," says Kromhout. "And if those things start to accelerate, then it's time to think about calling your insurance." Insurance companies can send inspectors who have experience with what are called subsidence events. Only a geologist can decide whether a particular subsidence is a true sinkhole.

Missing Lawn

A portion of a building rests in a sinkhole Monday, Aug. 12, 2013 in Clermont, Fla. The sinkhole, 40 to 50 feet in diameter, opened up overnight and damaged three buildings at the Summer Bay Resort.
Photograph By John Raoux, Associated Press

A sinkhole that opened in Clermont, Florida, in August 2013 damaged three buildings at the Summer Bay Resort northeast of Tampa. The hole was 40 to 50 feet (12 to 15 meters) in diameter.

According to Kromhout, there are two types of sinkholes: cover-subsidence sinkholes and cover-collapse sinkholes. The former develop slowly over time, but the latter open up quickly and can take buildings, and occasionally people, with them.

U.K. Sinkhole

High Wycombe sinkhole. Phil Conran looks out of a window from his home, in Main Road, Walter's Ash, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, after a 30ft-deep sinkhole opened up in the driveway yesterday and swallowed his car.
Photograph By Steve Parsons, PA Wire

Sinkholes are prevalent in Florida thanks to its sandy soil and underlying limestone, but they also occur in many other places around the world. Above, a 30-foot-deep (9-meter-deep) sinkhole opened up in a driveway in Buckinghamshire in the U.K. in February 2014. The hole swallowed a car. (See: "Guatemala Sinkhole Adds to World's Famous Pits.")

Like Toy Cars

One of eight Chevrolet Corvettes is removed from a sinkhole in the Skydome at the National Corvette Museum, Monday, March. 3, 2014, in Bowling Green, Ky.
Photograph by Alex Slitz, Daily News Via Associated Press

In February 2014, a sinkhole in Bowling Green, Kentucky, swallowed eight Corvettes at the National Corvette Museum.

Photographer Alex Slitz described the cars as flung into the earth as if they were toys.

Huge Holes

A giant sinkhole that swallowed several homes is seen in Guatemala City February 23, 2007. At least three people have been confirmed missing, officials said.
Photograph by Daniel LeClair, Reuters

In February 2007, a 330-foot-deep (100-meter-deep) sinkhole opened up in Guatemala City, killing three people and swallowing about a dozen homes. Deeper than the height of the Statue of Liberty, the hole was reportedly caused by torrential rains and a burst sewer line.

According to Kromhout, burst pipes aren't the only human activity that can lead to sinkholes. Overpumping of groundwater can also destabilize soil, as can earthmoving activities.

And paving over ground can cause runoff to concentrate in specific areas, where it can destabilize the surface. (See "2010 Guatemala Sinkholes Created by Humans, Not Nature.")

South America

Tourist near sinkhole on Roraima Tepui, Canaima National Park, Venezuela
Photograph by Thomas Marent, Minden Pictures

A tourist visits a picturesque sinkhole on Mount Roraima, in Venezuela's Canaima National Park.

In time, sinkholes often become ponds. Eventually they may fill in with soil and debris.

Cenotes

Divers exploring an underwater cave in a cenote.
Photograph by Paul Nicklen, National Geographic

Sinkholes in bedrock limestone around the Yucatán Peninsula are often called cenotes. The Maya considered them sacred places, and several have become important archaeological sites. (See: photos of cenotes.)

Above, a diver explores a cenote near Akumal, Mexico, in 2009.

Dead Sea Sinkholes

An aerial view photo shows sinkholes created by the drying of the Dead Sea, near Kibbutz Ein Gedi, on November 10, 2011. The Dead Sea is one of the sites candidate of other 28 sits in a international online campaign votes to select the new Seven Wonders of World Heritage Sites.
Photograph by Menahem Kahana, AFP, Getty Images

As the Dead Sea in Israel and Jordan continues to recede, thanks to diversion of the Jordan River, the water table below is also dropping. This has caused numerous sinkholes to open up in the land, and much of the area is now off-limits to visitors.

China

The debris of houses devastated by a subsidence is seen next to and inside the massive sinkhole in Pingxi village, Guangyuan city, southwest Chinas Sichuan province, 12 December 2013.
Photograph by Associated Press

China has extensive karst zones, where soluble rock below the surface has been dissolved by water, creating a network of fissures and caves. This massive sinkhole opened up in the village of Pingxi in southwest Sichuan Province in December 2013.

Within hours, the hole expanded into a crater measuring 200 feet by 130 feet (60 by 40 meters) and 100 feet (30 meters) deep that swallowed about a dozen buildings.

Giant Pothole

With over 9 inches of rain overnight and into Wednesday morning in Duluth Washouts, sinkholes and mudslides have taxed area roads.
Photograph by Brian Peterson, Minneapolis Star Tribune Via Corbis

In June 2012, a sinkhole opened up in Duluth, Minnesota, after a torrential rainstorm.

55 comments
Natasha Wells
Natasha Wells

This is something that definitely needs human intervention, if anything can be one that is! Nature is the only force that can humble man!

Cynthia B.
Cynthia B.

But what do they do with the really huge ones, like those now in Siberia? Will they try to fill them as a protective measure?

Barbara Thompson
Barbara Thompson

In the 1970s we did a lot of swimming in sinkholes.  They all have names such as Big Dismal, Little Dismal, River Sink, Gopher Hole and on and on!  They were great times.

joan du Toit
joan du Toit

In the early 1940s around Crown Mines, Johannesburg, South Africa we experienced what we called çave- ins.  Where the ground would suddenly fall inward as if into a tunnel. The mines would then fill the holes with rocks and place a cement slab over the centre, as children we continued playing in and around the areas without parent's knowledge.

The area suffered many earth tremors and kitchen cupboards were fitted with gauze panelled doors to prevent crockery on shelves from falling down.

mirko p.
mirko p.

I have never seen somthing like that!Thanks for remember how vulnerable our Earth is!

Greetings to the Comunity from Croatia!

julie Keeney
julie Keeney

Hearing about these more and more lately.  But you hardly ever hear about quicksand anymore.  But the tornadoes, those are out of control.  When I was a kid, I thought the Wizard of Oz was the dumbest story.  Everyone knew a tornado could never pick up a whole house and carry it away.  Now it happens so much that that story has gone from fiction section to the true stories section.   It would be neat to find a sinkhole that went down and connected to some kind of really cool cave network, that had beings living in it, like sleestax...anyone remember the sleestax.  not sure how to spell sleestax, sleestacks, sleestachs, whatever.

Dev Shah
Dev Shah

Definitely calls for attention! We are now aware. Thanks, NatGeo!!


Narayanamurthy Murthy
Narayanamurthy Murthy

In Chennai the development on town planning, some roads do develop pinholes Inspite of several attempt to fill them. It is said that roads are formed over farmers drawing wells.

Haresh Panchal
Haresh Panchal

One year ago Kedarnath , insidanse  is prove that Nature is Grater then human.


God blass to all.

CJ Lowell
CJ Lowell

Don't presume your homeowners policy covers sinkhole activity. Read your policy.

Haresh Panchal
Haresh Panchal

Mother Earth will always have the last word. Especially if she feels abused.

Yes, Mother earth is not feel good , about some work of being human, I belive that we respect to our mother Earth, who give us food and too much things to live in life.


We indian  say to Earth ' Dharati Mata' (Mother)

Daniel Wright
Daniel Wright

Soon we won't be able to go to sleep,  without,   tying a rope around our waists,  for fear of waking up,  someplace,  we did not go to sleep in,  or worse yet,   not getting to wake up at all !    Nighty Nite !     and,  don't let the bed bugs bite !    Ouch !

David Cockroft
David Cockroft

Thank heavens we dont have sink holes that big in new zealand

megan fawkes
megan fawkes

Sinkholes are common in karst terrains, due to the presence of carbonate rocks such as limestone. Dissolution occurs through the contact of water on the rock surface and is commonly more aggressive where flow is focused along preexisting joints or along bedding planes. 

Sinkholes can however be human induced and correlate to land-use practices such as construction, groundwater pumping or altering natural drainage patterns. Industrial and run-off storage ponds can also cause immense pressure and trigger an underground collapse thus causing a sinkhole. 

Studying the signs and indicators of sinkholes would be beneficial in creating a mitigation plan to prevent unnecessary damage  and loss of life. 

antoinette amegbletor
antoinette amegbletor

This is incredible!

This is also very revealing knowing what may cause a sinkhole is very informative.

Thanks.

Sy White
Sy White

Mother Earth will always have the last word. Especially if she feels abused.

Sibdas Ghosh
Sibdas Ghosh

In Eastern India some coalfields are being abandoned when quarrying becomes non -profitable. These abandoned coal-mines later become targets of pilferage in unorganized manners often leading to sinkholes causing much damage to the settlers, their huts and cattle. Abundance of such sink holes can be seen in Asansol-Ranigunge areas  of West Bengal.

Petrus Roelof Louw
Petrus Roelof Louw

Sinkholes in South Africa .i think,is due to underground tunnels made by mining activities.In Carlton (RSA) a house fell into a hole.



John Bellantoni
John Bellantoni

There are lots of sinkholes in Florida and last summer two University types from the north noticed one off I 75.  They stopped and got out and took pictures. 

"We can get the depth by dropping something into it and noting how long it takes to hit the bottom." one said.  So they looked around and found an old auto transmission by the fence and carried it over and let go.

Just then a goat came crashing through the fence, streaked over to the hole and dove in.  They were looking at each other in amazement when a Florida farmer came by.

"You fellas seen my goat, by any chance?"

"Well we just saw a goat going at least 100 MPH come through the fence and  he dove right into that sink hole."

"Couldn't have been my goat." the farmer said.  "My goat was tied to an old auto transmission."


"

John Twohy
John Twohy

yea just think long ago when the land was under water, most of the holes where full of gas, natural that is. just be glad it's not a sinkhole.

keerthi kumar
keerthi kumar

A good information,In city of Bangalore,India, every house is haveing one bore well and water table already depleting it has reached more than 1000 foot one fine day may sinking of earth may be happens, This is a good information, all Govt. must control over the bore wlls

Sylvan Aros
Sylvan Aros

I hope Brian Howard can add the new Russian huge sinkhole to the list. Is it caused by melting ice or natural gas movement or what? And, will there be others in the Artic circle as limestone isn't limited to Florida and Yucatan?  It's a very interesting world we share!

Matt Chew
Matt Chew

Sinkholes are not massive. If anything, they represent the absence of mass. 

Cong Yuan
Cong Yuan

Sinkholes are occuring not only because of human acitivities, but the terrains mostly. What we should do is to study the signs of the coming sinkholes and do some measures to prevent unnecessary damage.  

ima lund
ima lund

no wonder this sinkholes appears, we are draining all the water out of the earth.

humans are so greedy, craving for money, more money - and for what? a planet so destroyed that we can't live here?

Daniel Wright
Daniel Wright

@John Scribner    I  WISH with all my heart, one big one would open up in The District of Columbia,   when Congress is voting themselves more Raises.   They call them C O L A 's  a Cost of Living Allowance,  When,  what they R E A L Y ,   need  is a C O L D,   which is,   a Cost Of Living Decrease !  So let it be Written, So let it be Done !   Thanks For Reading and be sure to tell Your  Congress(person)   cause they sure as all get out  are not Ladies and Gentlemen.   

Ben H
Ben H

@Matt Chew The air in the sinkhole has mass, unless Florida is in space and nobody told us. Regardless, 'massive' is a widely used adjective to describe a hole (in the parlance of our time).  While calling it a 'voluminous' hole may be more proper (and be a better name for a rock band), I feel you're picking the wrong grammar/defitionition fight here.

Mia O' Connel
Mia O' Connel

@ima lund 

Have you studied the water cycle? Eventually, all the water is going to end up back on earth. It stays here, it just gets moved around. It's not like we build giant rocket/tanks, fill them with water, and launch them into space. And how is wanting clean water to wash, drink, and clean with greedy? It is essential for life, and I'd much rather pump it out of the ground and cleanse it than pull it directly from a lake full of microbes. Sinkholes are natural occurances, hence the ones the Maya believed sacred. People don't always cause them. It just happens that they sometimes appear where we've built buildings or roads, so it's a 'disaster caused by greedy humans depleting natural resources' because they naturally open up beneath our feet.

Don McCoy
Don McCoy

@ima lund LOL! YEAH! Humans suck! GREED for money is somehow causing sinkholes! 


Also...you just can't "pump all the water out of the Earth."

Nico Oyonarte
Nico Oyonarte

@ima lund dear ima I think you should study again the water cicle ...

this phenomenon should be study by geologist in order to find what's going on ... 

Daniel Borteş
Daniel Borteş

@ima lund Sinkholes appear when there's too much water in the soil, not because we drain it. Did you actually read the article?

Richard Tuon
Richard Tuon

daniel, did you read the article? Pumping out groundwater can cause it too. It makes sense if you are removing volume from below which causes instability in the structure of the ground.

Jeannette H.
Jeannette H.

@Daniel Borteş @ima lund did you read it, daniel? " According to Lamar, burst pipes aren't the only human activity that can lead to sinkholes. Overpumping of groundwater can also destabilize soil, as can earthmoving activities."

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