Sinkholes are just one of many forms of ground collapse, or subsidence. Land subsidence is a gradual settling or sudden sinking of the Earth’s surface owing to subsurface movement of earth materials. The principal causes of land subsidence are aquifer-system compaction, drainage of organic soils, underground mining, hydrocompaction, natural compaction, sinkholes, and thawing permafrost. Land subsidence can affect areas that are thousands of square miles in size.
A sinkhole is a depression in the ground that has no natural external surface drainage. Basically, this means that when it rains, all of the water stays inside the sinkhole and typically drains into the subsurface. Sinkholes are most common in what geologists call, “karst terrain.” These are regions where the type of rock below the land surface can naturally be dissolved by groundwater circulating through them. Soluble rocks include salt beds and domes, gypsum, and limestone and other carbonate rock.