Environmental Geology

, Volume 53, Issue 5, pp 1007–1022 | Cite as

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

  • F. Gutiérrez
  • A. H. Cooper
  • K. S. Johnson
Original Article


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 in investigating 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 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. 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, frequently 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 applied to reduce the dissolution activity and subsidence processes. A more practical solution for safe development is to reduce the vulnerability of the structures by using subsidence-proof designs.


Sinkholes Evaporite karst Hazard assessment Mitigation 



Dr. Andrew Farrant, Dr. Andrew Gibson, and Mr. Dave Bridge are thanked for reviewing the paper. AHC publishes with the permission of the Executive Director, British Geological Survey (NERC). This work has been partially co-financed by the Spanish Education and Science Ministry and the FEDER (project CGL2004-02892/BTE).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Edificio GeológicasUniversity of ZaragozaZaragozaSpain
  2. 2.British Geological SurveyKeyworth, NottinghamUK
  3. 3.Oklahoma Geological Survey, Energy CenterNormanUSA

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