Evaluation of trenching, ground penetrating radar (GPR) and electrical resistivity tomography (ERT) for sinkhole characterization

Domingo Carbonel, Verónica Rodríguez, Francisco Gutiérrez, James P. Mccalpin, Rogelio Linares, Carles Roqué, Mario Zarroca, Jesús Guerrero, Ira Sasowsky

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71 Citations (Scopus)


This paper explores the suitability and advantages of combining the trenching technique with geophysical surveys [ground penetrating radar (GPR) and electrical resistivity tomography (ERT)] for sinkhole characterization in a mantled karst area. The approach is applied to two active sinkholes concealed by anthropogenic deposits and formed by contrasting subsidence mechanisms; collapse and sagging. The ERT section acquired across the collapse sinkhole images the clayey fill of the depression as an obvious low resistivity area, showing the approximate location of the sinkhole edges. Spatially dense GPR surveys provide information on the position of the boundaries of the concealed subsidence structures and their three-dimensional (3D) internal geometry, revealing the dominant subsidence mechanism. We illustrate the impact of several factors on the quality of the GPR data such as sinkhole size, nominal frequency of the antennas, antenna shielding, and the presence of backfilled excavations and above-surface objects. Trenches provided detailed information on the subsurface structure of the sinkhole, subsidence magnitude, partitioning of the strain, and the position of the sinkhole edges, especially when they are deep enough and excavated across the central sector and perpendicular to the boundaries. The stratigraphic and structural relationships observed in the trench were then used to infer the spatial evolution of the sinkholes (e.g. enlargement), their kinematic behavior (episodic versus progressive), and to differentiate discrete subsidence events and their associated magnitude. Numerical dates were used to estimate average subsidence rates and the recurrence of subsidence events. Such integrated data sets may be used as an objective basis to forecast the future behavior of potentially damaging sinkholes and to assess the associated hazard and risk. © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)214-227
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014


  • ERT
  • GPR
  • Retrodeformation analysis
  • Sinkhole hazard
  • Subsidence rate


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