What Are Sinkholes and Are You at Risk for Them?

Did you know about 20% of the United States is susceptible to sinkholes? 

Every sinkhole becomes a monster when it appears in the middle of the night. But mostly, they grow slowly and steadily until they become full-fledged holes in the earth. What amount to pinholes in the ground are clues that there’s a more serious movement going on underground. 

If you are wondering “what are sinkholes?” and if you are at risk for them, this short and simple guide is for you.  

What Are Sinkholes? 

Sinkholes occur when water gets into the ground and dissolves rock or salt deposits beneath it. This creates an underground void that can collapse on itself, literally swallowing anything in its path. 

Sinkholes can be small or large. And they usually occur when acidic rainwater dissolves limestone and forms holes that drain water away from above ground level. This leaves behind a space that collapses below ground level and above it.  

This is the difference between a sinkhole and a catastrophic ground cover collapse. 

Sinkholes are dangerous because they occur suddenly and without warning. Sinkhole damage involves swallowing cars, homes, and even people who are standing too close to them when they collapse. While sinkholes can occur anywhere, several factors make you more susceptible to them. 


The most common cause of sinkholes is water. As water seeps into cracks in rocks, it dissolves some minerals they contain and carries them away as runoff. Over time, this process can weaken the rocks so much that they collapse under their weight. 

Ground Shifting 

The movement of solid earth materials such as clay, silt, or sand can gradually create voids beneath them.  

These voids may collapse if they become too large to support the weight above them. Ground shifting can also occur because of earthquakes or other activity in the earth’s crust such as volcanic eruptions and landslides.  

Poor Drainage  

If water cannot drain properly through the soil, it will collect and form underground pockets of water called aquifers. Over time, these may expand into cracks in rocks, causing them to collapse. 


Erosion is the gradual wearing of soil and rock. It happens when water dissolves rocks like limestone, gypsum, and salt, creating underground caverns and tunnels. As the land surface above these caverns collapses, a sinkhole forms. 

Dry Caves 

When rainwater drains through rock layers containing insoluble materials such as sandstone or limestone, it can leave behind sinkhole risks called “dry caves” or “underground rooms”.  

Over time, these dry caves may become large enough to collapse under their weight. They can also be filled with soil and debris from above ground, causing them to cave in altogether. 

What Are Sinkholes: Understand Why the Earth Caves In 

Hopefully, this article answered the question of “what are sinkholes?” and whether you are at risk for them. 

The factors that contribute to the formation of sinkholes are never the same and, even in the best of conditions, can be unpredictable. However, by paying attention to land subsidence, you might avoid becoming another victim of these terrifying pits in the ground. 

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