Florida Geological Survey tries to predict sinkholes

Due to the frequency of sinkholes in Florida, most Floridians have come to accept the occurrence of sinkhole activity as a part of life in Florida. Unfortunately, most sinkholes appear without warning. The Florida Geological Survey is aiming to change that.

Recently, geologists have begun working on a map that could potentially predict where sinkholes might form before they occur. The map could also help homeowners prove to insurers that their homes are sustaining damage from sinkhole activity. Without such information, homeowners have a more difficult time proving that sinkhole activity is the cause of the damage to their property and are subject to insurance companies who are notorious for denying sinkhole claims.

The geologists working on the sinkhole geologic survey hope to have the map finished by 2016. The experts envision a color-coded state map that ranks areas by sinkhole vulnerability. Although the Florida Geological Survey has mapped sinkholes for more than 100 years, it became motivated to come up with a way to forecast sinkhole activity after Tropical Storm Debby spurred hundreds of sinkholes across the state.

The geologists hope that they will be able to predict future sinkhole activity by compiling and analyzing information about the water table, limestone depth, and the location of streams and clays.

Sinkholes are typically caused by acidic rainwater that seeps through the soil and ultimately causes cavities to form in the limestone.

For now, Florida homeowners should be aware that there are some signs that they can look for to learn whether sinkholes may be looming underneath their homes. These include sizable cracks around window and door frames; walls that have separated from floors or ceilings; cracks in swimming pools; doors and windows that will not close or operate correctly; slanting fence posts or trees; sloping floors; loose soil around trees or exposed tree roots; and expanding depressions on your property.

Insurers will often deny that such evidence points to sinkhole activity, and it can be wise to work with a sinkhole attorney to identify and document signs of damage.

Source: Scientific American, “Florida Tries to Map Its Home-Swallowing Sinkholes,” Alexandra Witze and Nature Magazine, Dec. 12, 2013