Xylem’s Technology: Helping To Learn About Sinkholes

(3BL Media/Justmeans) – In the last six years a number of sinkholes have appeared, all around the planet—this is not an isolated phenomenon. They are linked to other earth changes, such as earthquakes, volcano eruptions, strange sounds and extreme weather events. Sinkholes can be natural or man-made; natural ones occur due to erosion or underground water, and start developing a long time before they actually appear.

The ground beneath our feet is not as solid a structure as we like to think. It is made up of layers of soil, rocks and minerals, with water continually seeping in between these layers, making its way down to the ground water reservoirs. As this happens, the water slowly erodes the rocks and minerals, and sometimes the flow of water increases to a point where it washes away the underground structure of the land. When the structure becomes too weak to support the surface of the earth, it collapses and opens up a hole. This is how sinkholes are formed.

In February 2014, a large sinkhole opened up beneath the National Corvette Museum in Kentucky, swallowing $1 million worth of classic cars! The heavy rains and deep freezes that occurred that February created conditions for the cave ceiling lying beneath the museum’s car collection to collapse. A team of researchers analysed the sinkhole, looking for signs of an underground river that could have caused the subsidence. They went to an old sinkhole on the Museum’s property, which was used as a retention pond for drainage from the building and parking lot. Here they looked for data to see if other buildings were at risk. As this collapsed cave left a gaping hole, 12 by 18 meters across and 9 meters (30 feet) deep, in the center of the Museum’s atrium. In geologic terms, it was just one more sinkhole among hundreds in Kentucky’s Warren County.

The research team used Xylem’s EXO water-monitoring technology to study the sinkhole. This special tool was able to log measurements of water turbidity, specific conductance, pH and temperature. The National Corvette Museum sinkhole was an opportunity to learn and teach about the karst geography that the city is built on; karst topography is a landscape formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks such as limestone. 

Two years after this disaster, the Museum unveiled the ‘Corvette Cave-In: The Skydome Sinkhole Exhibit’, chronicling the story of the sinkhole. One exhibit provides a geology lessons about how sinkholes form. A line on the Museum floor outlines where the sinkhole was while a second line marks where the cave still lies. A 48” manhole allows visitors to peer into a glass window to see the floor of the sinkhole, over 30 feet down. The passageway then slopes down into the cave.

Ongoing climate change has raised the likelihood of extreme weather, meaning that the torrential rain and flooding conditions which often lead to the exposure of sinkholes are likely to become increasingly common.

Photo CreditNational Corvette Museum on 3BL Media