Identifying the boundaries of sinkholes and subsidence areas via trenching and establishing setback distances

Francisco Gutiérrez, Mario Zarroca, Rogelio Linares, Carles Roqué, Domingo Carbonel, Jesús Guerrero, James P. McCalpin, Xavier Comas, Anthony H. Cooper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


© 2017 Elsevier B.V. One of the most effective mitigation strategies in sinkhole areas is the exclusion of sinkholes and their vicinity to construction. The application of this preventive measure requires precise mapping of the boundaries of the areas affected by subsidence and the establishment of adequate setback distances, which is an important policy issue with significant economic implications. Through the investigation of several buried sinkholes in the mantled evaporite karst of the Ebro Valley by trenching, this work illustrates that the actual extent of the subsidence areas may be much larger than that inferred from surface mapping and geophysical surveys. The objective and accurate subsurface information acquired from trenches on the outer edge of the deformed ground revealed sinkhole radii 2–3 times larger than initially estimated, increasing one order of magnitude the sinkhole area. Trenches can therefore help to reduce mapping uncertainties and the size of setbacks. Moreover, the trenching technique, in combination with geochronological data and retrodeformation analyses, provides critical information on the subsidence phenomena and the characteristics of the sinkholes relevant to hazard assessment. Since recommended setback distances found in the existing literature are highly variable and rather arbitrary, we include a discussion here on the main factors that should be considered when defining setback zones for sinkholes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)255-268
JournalEngineering Geology
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2018


  • Geophysics
  • Hazard zonation
  • Planning
  • Retrodeformation analysis
  • Sinkhole mapping


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