USF professor: sinkholes part of Fla. landscape - WFLA News Channel 8

USF professor: sinkholes part of Fla. landscape

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Prof. Mark Stewart, School of Geosciences, USF Prof. Mark Stewart, School of Geosciences, USF
TAMPA, FL (WFLA) - Mark Stewart, a Professor in the School of Geosciences at the University of South Florida, says sinkholes are a natural part of the Florida landscape.

"Even if you look at an aerial photo of the Dunedin area, what you'll see are lots of little round lakes and much of Pinellas County in the 1920's and 30's was covered with wet-lands and lakes and every one of those represents a sinkhole," Stewart said. "Same thing in northern Hillsborough County or over on the central ridge. All those are lakes are sinkholes."

Related content:  Is your neighborhood prone to sinkholes?

He said you can picture the Bay area on a big platform.

"We live on half the platform. The other half is out under the west coast - the Continental Shelf - but we live on a platform of limestone and limestone has the interesting chemical characteristic that can be dissolved by slightly acidic groundwater," said Stewart. "As rainfall peculates down through the ground, it dissolves it and makes holes in the ground. Then eventually that loose sand and sediment that's at the surface either slowly or rapidly goes into those holes and that's what we see as a sinkhole."

He said even though the Bay area has a lot of sinkholes, the risk of a catastrophic collapse is relatively small. He has a theory for the recent activity near Pinellas County.

"This zone where we're seeing these sinkholes are just at the edge of the Coachman Ridge. One of the things that may be happening is that where this clay layer sort of ends - is where we get a lot of sinkholes," he said.

Related content:  Dunedin sinkhole damages 2 homes

He believes there is a lot more research to be done.

"I think what's amazing is that in the State of Florida for the amount that we're spending on insurance, the amount the insurance companies are spending on claims - that we have not had more funded research by the state in order to really figure out what the hazard is and whether or not these methods that we're using are truly effective or not," he said.

Stewart even compared sinkholes to the world of finance.

"At the moment, sinkholes are a little bit like the stock market. This evening, you can listen to the business report and people will tell you with great authority exactly why the market did what it did today - but if you're going to ask them what it's going to do tomorrow - they don't have a clue."

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