Detecting Sinkholes

Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) can be used to detect the presence and extents of sinkholes, underground voids and subsidence.


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What is a sinkhole?

A sinkhole is a hole in the ground created when land collapses. A sinkhole occurs when the roof of a cave collapses and the surface caves into the void created. A sinkhole can also occur when water dissolves bedrock, creating an underground cavern. Without supporting rock, the surface collapses into the gap, forming a sinkhole.

Can sinkholes be detected?

Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) can be used to detect and map out the presence and extent of sinkholes, as well as underground voids and subsidence. A GPR void detection survey is a low-risk method to scan an area of ground and determine the location of sinkholes.

How to detect sinkholes

Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) is the best way to detect sinkholes. A GPR survey is a low-risk method to determine the location of sinkholes. This can form part of a risk assessment to check the integrity of the ground or to determine the extent of voids when remediation planning.

Hidden sinkholes in construction

During the construction of a new tower block in Manchester (UK), the road collapsed underneath a lorry delivering construction materials for a new block, virtually swallowing the lorry into a sinkhole 4m deep and several meters across; fortunately, no one was injured during the incident. The cause was determined to be the prior collapse of a sewer dating from the Victorian era creating a sinkhole 4m beneath the road surface. Over time material had been progressively washed into the sewer until the sinkhole grew to reach the surface and then spread underneath the stable reinforced concrete layer.

Due to nature of the reinforced concrete road, there was no surface evidence that the sinkhole existed and therefor no warning before the lorry fell through the road. The reinforced concrete beneath the road also dated to the Victorian era and the rebars were significantly corroded, reducing its load bearing capacity.

Using GPR surveys to detect sinkholes

Using GPR surveys to detect sinkholes

Prior to the commissioning of a crane on the same road, KB GPR Surveys were asked to attend site and perform a survey using our advanced Ground Penetrating Radar to detect evidence of any other potential underground voids, sinkholes or subsidence, which may cause the surface to collapse under load. This would have been potentially catastrophic if it occurred during lifting operations.

Using our custom built UTSI Electronics triple-frequency, multi-antenna GPR, we started to perform a survey of the road. We quickly identified the presence of reinforced concrete covering most of the site, which blocked the signal from the lower frequency antennas completely, but our high frequency 1000MHz channels could penetrate to some extent between the rebars.

We performed a Ground Penetrating Radar survey of all the accessible surfaces of the road, it was not possible to see anything in the data on-site, nevertheless, we completed the data collection and returned to the office to process and interpret the data to see what we could find.

Results from a GPR survey to detect sinkholes

Results from a GPR survey to detect sinkholes

Using GPR-Slice to post process and interpret the GPR data we were able to identify several significant voids located just below the reinforced concrete layer caused by material subsiding into sinkholes. This information was immediately provided to the customer and the site was closed until remedial works could be completed.

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