Could rising atmospheric CO2 affect Florida sinkhole formation?

power plant / Seán Kinane/WMNF News

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As humans continue to burn fossil fuels and cut down forests, levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have skyrocketed far beyond historic levels; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration began measuring carbon dioxide levels more than 400 parts per million for the first time in 2013.

Atmospheric CO2, along with other greenhouse gasses, is causing temperatures to increase, polar ice to melt and oceans to rise. And as more of this excess carbon dioxide is absorbed into seas from the air, the oceans are becoming more acidic.

But how will high levels of CO2 in the air affect Florida’s terrestrial landscape, and specifically sinkholes? To find out, WMNF News asked Kim Yates, a researcher with the U.S. Geological Survey in St. Petersburg.

“So, that’s a very good question. We don’t know at this point how atmospheric carbon dioxide will affect sinkhole formation. However, sinkholes form when CO2 combines with rainwater to produce the same type of carbonic acid, which is a weak acid that percolates down through the sediments and dissolves the underlying carbonate structure. And so you can see how increases in atmospheric CO2 may also exacerbate freshwater acidification and perhaps cause changes in the rates of sinkhole formation in Florida.”

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