Identification, prediction and mitigation of sinkhole hazards in evaporite karst areas

Gutiérrez, F; Cooper, Anthony; Johnson, Kenneth. 2008 Identification, prediction and mitigation of sinkhole hazards in evaporite karst areas. Environmental Geology, 53 (5). 1007-1022.

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Abstract Sinkholes usually have a higher probability of occurrence and a greater genetic diversity in evaporite terrains than in carbonate karst areas. This is because evaporites have a higher solubility, and commonly a lower mechanical strength. Subsidence damage resulting from evaporite dissolution generates substantial losses throughout the world, but the causes are only well-understood in a few areas. To deal with these hazards, a phased approach is needed for sinkhole identification, investigation, prediction, and mitigation. Identification techniques include field surveys, and geomorphological mapping combined with accounts from local people and historical sources. Detailed sinkhole maps can be constructed from sequential historical maps, recent topographical maps and digital elevation models (DEMs) complemented with building-damage surveying, remote sensing, and high-resolution geodetic surveys. On a more detailed level, information from exposed paleosubsidence features (paleokarst), speleological explorations, geophysical investigations, trenching, dating techniques, and boreholes, may help to recognize dissolution and subsidence features. Information on the hydrogeological pathways including caves, springs and swallow holes, are particularly important especially when corroborated by tracer tests. These diverse data sources make a valuable database - the karst inventory. From this dataset, sinkhole susceptibility zonations (relative probability) may be produced based on the spatial and temporal distribution of the features and good knowledge of the local geology. Sinkhole distribution can be investigated by spatial distribution analysis techniques including studies of preferential elongation, alignment and nearest neighbor analysis. More objective susceptibility models may be obtained by analyzing the statistical relationships between the known sinkholes and the conditioning factors, such as weather conditions. Chronological information on sinkhole formation is required to estimate the probability of occurrence of sinkholes (number of sinkholes/km² year). Such spatial and temporal predictions, derived from limited records and based on the assumption that past sinkhole activity may be extrapolated to the future, are non-corroborated hypotheses. Validation methods allow us to assess the predictive capability of the susceptibility maps and to transform them into probability maps. Avoiding the most hazardous areas by preventive planning is the safest strategy for development in sinkhole-prone areas. Corrective measures could be to reduce the dissolution activity and subsidence processes, but these are difficult. A more practical solution for safe development is to reduce the vulnerability of the structures by using subsidence-proof designs.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
Programmes: BGS Programmes 2008 > Land use and development
ISSN: 0943-0105
Additional Information. Not used in RCUK Gateway to Research.: Paper presented at the Sixth International Conference on Geomorphology, Zaragoza, Spain, September 2005. The original publication is available at
Additional Keywords: Sinkhole, Evaporite karst, Hazard assessment, mitigation, ground conditions, gypsum, salt, halite, doline, karst
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Earth Sciences
Date made live: 19 Mar 2009 12:54 +0 (UTC)

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