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Sinkhole prediction technique under development in Florida

Groundwater levels could be used to predict where sinkholes will form according to research by the University of Central Florida (UCF) engineering professor Manoj Chopra and his research group.

Funding for new research was prompted by two recent sinkholes disasters in residential areas, the first being within an important tourist district in Orlando and the second resulting in a fatality.

The team recently created a sinkhole simulator in an oil drum, using PVC pipes and containing sensors to monitor water levels and soil temperature, before adding water to imitate rainfall until a miniature sinkhole formed.

The data supports the theory of a potential connection between fluctuations in groundwater levels, locations of sinkholes, and their formation rates.

“It is much more difficult to develop a prediction model for sinkholes, due to the uncertainties of soil and other conditions beneath us. The mechanism of sinkhole formation is understood, but the formation and extent of cavities is difficult to determine with certainty,” said Chopra. “I’m hoping that within a year we will have something useful for geologists and people around the world to predict sinkholes in kastic soils such as limestone.”

PhD student Mohamed Alrowaimi and the team, with assistance from geomaterial engineering professor Boo Hyun Nam and engineering professor Andrew Yun, will spend the next six months validating data using testing and American Geological Survey records of wells.

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