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The AAPG/Datapages Combined Publications Database

Environmental Geosciences (DEG)


Environmental Geosciences, V. 12, No. 3 (September 2005), P. 207-217.

Copyright copy2005. The American Association of Petroleum Geologists/Division of Environmental Geosciences. All rights reserved.


Environmental and economic risks from sinkholes in west-central Florida

J. Scheidt,1 I. Lerche,2 E. Paleologos3

1Department of Geological Sciences, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina 29208
2Institut fuer Geophysik und Geologie Universitatet Leipzig, Talstrasse 35 04103, Leipzig, Germany
3Department of Geological Sciences, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina 29208; [email protected]


Justin Scheidt is a graduate student of geological sciences at the University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina. He specializes in contaminant transport and environmental risk analysis.

Ian Lerche is an award-winning researcher and professor emeritus of geology at the University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina. Currently, he is a visiting professor at the Institute for Geophysics and Geology, the University of Leipzig, Germany. His major research interests include astrophysics, basin analysis, salt, economic risk, and environmental problems. He has published several hundred papers, together with more than 18 books. He is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the Levorsen Award of the AAPG. Currently, he sits on several editorial boards and is the technical editor of Energy Exploration and Exploitation.

Evan K. Paleologos is an associate professor in the Department of Geological Sciences, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina. He specializes in problems of groundwater flow and contaminant transport, as well as decision making in environmental problems. The author of more than 40 articles and 2 books, he has been the recipient of many professional honors and is currently serving on the editorial board of two scientific journals, Stochastic Environmental Research and Risk Assessment and International Journal of Ocean and Oceanography.


This work has been partially supported by the Deutsche Akademische Austausch Dienst through their award of a Visiting Professorship to Ian Lerche at the University of Leipzig, which is also thanked for its contribution to this support. Werner Ehrmann is particularly thanked for the courtesies and support he and his group at Leipzig have made available during the course of this work. The authors also thank E. Guy and E. Kapitan-White for their thorough review and suggestions for improvement of our manuscript.


Data from the last 20 yr for sinkhole occurrences in west-central Florida are used in conjunction with population and housing data, including house prices, to assess the risk of a house being affected by a sinkhole, together with the likely economic loss. The top five relocation cities in each of Hillsborough, Pasco, and Pinellas counties are investigated in detail to determine the relative risk as well as the absolute risk. Because of the massive urbanization occurring in these areas, which are characterized by karst topography, the sinkhole risk is increasing because of the excessive demand for water and the subsequent overpumping of groundwater. Pinellas County is better placed in this regard than Hillsborough or Pasco counties because of its lower karst component. The city with the highest likelihood of risk is Tampa, probably because of its massive urbanization over the last 20 yr. Coastal cities most at risk from sinkhole effects on housing are New Port Richey and Hudson, but they are a very distant second and third compared to Tampa. Economic damage risks to housing are estimated to be about $5 million/yr for Tampa and are probably going to increase in the near future if the current trends of population increase and demands on the aquifer system's water are to continue.

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