Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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April 10, 2013

Sinkholes claim Florida man, threaten another house

Sometimes “solid rock” turns out to be anything but sturdy stuff.



Limestone and a couple other related sedimentary rocks are common in some parts of the country, including in Florida. The chemistry of limestone and groundwater can combine to make for sinkholes, or vertical holes in bedrock that can open up quickly.

Sinkholes are caused by the fact that groundwater, percolating downward from the land surface, is acidic. And acids eat away at limestone, dissolving it. That means over time limestone bedrock can start to resemble Swiss cheese, with caverns and holes within it. At some point, if a hole grows to large enough, it undermines the ground at the surface. The surface layer then falls into the hole created in the limestone bedrock.

Earlier this year a Florida man in a Tampa suburb fell into a sinkhole that opened one night beneath the bedroom of his home. He called to his brother for help.

Jeremy Bush tried to aid his brother, scrambling down into the hole and digging with a shovel. But Jeff Bush wasn’t to be found. When police arrived, they pulled Jeremy Bush out of the hole, saying it was unsafe because it was still spreading and potentially would undermine the whole house.  

John and Tina Furlow, another Florida couple, face a more slowly expanding sinkhole that threatens their home. For more than a year they’ve watched a sinkhole on their property expand, undermining a room in their house. It’s an ongoing tale that may make fresh headlines at any time.

Sinkholes are one feature of what geologists call karst topography. Around the world, some karst regions have thousands of caves and sinkholes. The voids are formed as groundwater seeps through cracks or bedding planes in the bedrock. Slowly the bedrock dissolves and the voids grow. As they do so they increase the rate of groundwater percolation so that water is drained from landscapes via the subsurface instead of via streams above. In some karst areas streams simply sink into the ground, disappearing from view at the surface. A karst “fenster” occurs where an underground stream emerges from a spring at the surface for a few feet, but then disappears back underground, often cascading down into a sinkhole.

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