Fla. geologists create maps to predict sinkhole activity - WFLA News Channel 8

Fla. geologists create maps to predict sinkhole activity

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A sinkhole opened at this Seffner site in March. It swallowed part of a house and took a man's life in the process. A sinkhole opened at this Seffner site in March. It swallowed part of a house and took a man's life in the process.
SEFFNER, FL (WFLA) -

They open up without warning, sometimes swallowing homes and even people. Now state geologists are developing a tool to help emergency managers across Florida better prepare for the possibility of sinkholes in certain areas.

A pilot study is happening right now in Hamilton, Columbia, and Suwnanee counties to create a predictive map for sinkhole activity. In 2013, heavy rain from Tropical Storm Debby triggered dozens of sinkholes to open there, as well as in Hernando County. Geologists from the Florida Geological Survey are now visiting those sinkholes to compile data for the study.

"We're creating a computer program and we're going to input a number of what are called evidential themes," explained geologist Harley Means, who is supervising the field research. "And those can be things like depth to the water table, depth to limestone, soil properties on top of the limestone, a number of factors that we believe affect the potential for sinkhole development."

At the end of the pilot study, they hope to have a multi-layer sinkhole vulnerability map for the three counties. By the end of 2016, the goal is to expand the map across the entire state.

"It builds upon data that already exists and we, as geologists, know where most of the sinkhole activity in the state takes place. But this is going to be a tool to help the Division of Emergency Management better respond to sinkhole activity in the future," explained Means.

A $1 million federal grant is paying for the sinkhole study. It's a joint project between the Florida Geological Survey and the Florida Division of Emergency Management. Insurance companies could eventually access the predictive sinkhole map, since it will be public record once completed.


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