UK Project Aims to Reduce Sinkhole-related Damage

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Feb. 10, 2021) — A project led by researchers from the Kentucky Geological Survey (KGS) at the University of Kentucky will soon help officials and residents in west-central Kentucky better understand the risks related to karst and mitigate potential damage from sinkholes. 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), through the Kentucky Department of Military Affairs, has awarded $293,984 to KGS to develop a multijurisdictional plan for karst mitigation in the Lincoln Trail Area Development District (LTADD).

According to the KGS, karst is a landscape that includes sinkholes, sinking streams, caves and springs. It is formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks like limestone. Kentucky is one of the most famous karst areas of the world, with much of its prime farmland underlain by karst.

“Sinkholes are common in much of Kentucky and they cause millions of dollars in damage to homes, buildings, highways and other infrastructure,” said Junfeng Zhu, KGS hydrogeologist who is leading the project. “The main goal of this project is to reduce sinkhole related damages in Kentucky. The tasks we planned are aiming to help emergency management officials better pinpoint areas most affected by sinkhole hazards.”

According to Zhu, the LTADD is one of several districts in Kentucky prone to sinkhole development and is an area increasing in population and urban and suburban development.

“In this project, we focus our efforts on LTADD, hoping that we can expand the methods we develop and lessons we learn from this project to other Kentucky areas with sinkhole problems,” Zhu said.

The research team will use light detection and ranging (LiDAR) data to characterize existing sinkholes and assess the area for risk of future sinkhole hazards. LiDAR is a remote sensing method that uses pulsed laser light to generate precise, 3-D information about the shape of the landscape. The project will also utilize to the statewide “KyFromAbove” initiative, which is focused on building and maintaining a basemap of the state as a public resource.  

Informational tools will be developed to aid data collection, including a web-based reporting system for sinkhole collapses. The team will also develop brochures and smart phone apps for community members that describe how sinkholes form and ways to minimize their impact. Mitigation strategies for each jurisdiction will be incorporated into a plan to help jurisdictions adopt these practices.

The LTADD includes eight west-central Kentucky counties, including Breckinridge, Grayson, Hardin, LaRue, Marion, Meade, Nelson and Washington.

“The LTADD is underlain by limestone with some of the highest sinkhole potential in Kentucky,” said Bill Haneberg, state geologist and director of KGS. “Understanding where, when and why individual sinkholes occur will help landowners alleviate a problem that costs Kentuckians millions of dollars each year.”

To learn more about the project, contact or call 859-257-5500.

The mission of the Kentucky Geological Survey, a research center within the University of Kentucky, is to support sustainable prosperity of the Commonwealth, the vitality of its flagship university and the welfare of its people. KGS does this by conducting research and providing unbiased information about geologic resources, environmental issues and natural hazards affecting Kentucky.

The “Multijurisdictional Mitigation Plan for Karst for the Lincoln Trail Area Development District” project was supported by the Kentucky Department of Military Affairs through FEMA by award number PON2 095 2100000540.

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