$1.1 Million Project Will Allow Florida Geological Survey To Address Sinkhole Vulnerability

TALLAHASSEE – A $1.08 million federal grant will allow the Florida Geological Survey, in conjunction with the Florida Division of Emergency Management, to conduct a statewide assessment of sinkhole vulnerability in Florida starting this fall.

The grant was funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in conjunction with the Florida Division of Emergency Management. The three-year project will start with geologists conducting a one-year pilot study in Hamilton, Columbia and Suwannee counties.The results of the pilot study will culminate in the production of a model that will generate a map showing the relative vulnerability of these counties to potential sinkhole formation. The resulting model will then be used to produce a statewide map during the following two years.

“Florida’s geology is complex and this grant will allow the Florida Geological Survey to produce a predictive tool that will refine our understanding of sinkhole occurrence throughout the state,” said Dr. Jon Arthur, Director of the Florida Geological Survey. “Ultimately, this assessment will aid planners, builders and environmental regulators for the betterment of human health and safety as well as the economy.”

Sinkholes are a common, natural feature of Florida’s landscape because Florida sits on several thousand feet of porous limestone. Porous limestone aquifers can produce billions of gallons of fresh water. Naturally acidic groundwater and rainwater dissolves limestone, leaving behind void spaces. The resulting void spaces can lead to the formation of sinkholes, caves, and springs, all of which are called karst features.

The information gathered will help improve the State of Florida Enhanced Hazard Mitigation Plan risk assessment section on sinkholes as well as its corresponding mitigation strategies. An appendix to the State Hazard Mitigation Plan will be added to the project’s full findings.

“The Florida Division of Emergency Management is pleased to be a part of this project,” said FDEM Director Bryan W. Koon. “Sinkholes present a potential hazard to many Floridians throughout the state. By better understanding sinkhole vulnerability in Florida, we will be better able to prevent loss of life and property and keep Florida’s families safe.”

The request was sparked by Tropical Storm Debby, which brought heavy rainfall to Florida in June 2012, triggering the formation of sinkholes. In the months leading up to Tropical Storm Debby’s record rainfall event, most of Florida had been experiencing extreme drought conditions, resulting in lowered water levels in our aquifers. The result was an outbreak of sinkholes when rainwater caused dry underground voids — previously filled with water — to collapse.

Benefits of the project include more effective mitigation planning to reduce loss of life and property by lessening the impact of sinkholes on Florida’s population and infrastructure; better understanding of sinkhole susceptibility; an increased understanding of Florida’s karst terrain and hydrogeology, and how that affects the state. The assessment will help environmental regulators, growth management planners, the construction industry and local governments in developing protective designs as additional information about Florida’s geology will facilitate planning for possible sinkhole occurrences.

For more information about sinkholes, visit DEP’s Online Newsroom or the Florida Geological Survey website.

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