NASA Radar Demonstrates Ability to Predict Sinkholes

New analyses of NASA airborne radar data collected in 2012 reveal that radar detected indications of a huge sinkhole before it collapsed and forced evacuations in Louisiana that year. The findings suggest such radar data, if collected routinely from airborne systems or satellites, could at least in some cases foresee sinkholes before they happen, decreasing danger to people and property.

This interferogram was formed with images acquired on June 23, 2011 and July 2, 2012. Colors represent surface movement, with one full-color wrap corresponding to 4.7” of displacement. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The analyses showed the ground surface layer deformed significantly at least a month before the collapse, moving mostly horizontally up to 10.2 inches toward where the sinkhole would later form. Radar remote sensing could offer a monitoring technique for identifying at least some sinkholes before their surface collapse, and could be of particular use to the petroleum industry for monitoring operations in salt domes. Salt domes are dome-shaped structures in sedimentary rocks that form where large masses of salt are forced upward. By measuring strain on Earth's surface, this capability can reduce risks and provide quantitative information that can be used to predict a sinkhole's size and growth rate.

NASA monitors Earth's vital signs from land, air, and space with a fleet of satellites and ambitious airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth's interconnected natural systems with long-term data records and computer analysis tools to better see how our planet is changing.


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