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NASA Might Be Able To Predict Sinkholes Using Radar Data

Update Date: Mar 10, 2014 03:35 PM EDT

Sinkholes are not as unpredictable as it used to be. Taking one step further in the development of sinkholes detection, NASA announced this week that the images from routine radar could hint the possibility when and where a sinkhole will form. 

Two years ago, radar data had indicated the location of a massive depression before it collapsed in Louisiana that swallowed 25 acres of land. 

"Our work shows 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," Ron Blom, a NASA analysts and co-author of the study, said in a statement

"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."

Researchers said that analysis of the data revealed that the ground surface layer in Bayou Corne, La., became drastically deformed around a month before the collapse occurred in August 2012. 

"Every year, unexpected ground motions from sinkholes, landslides and levee failures cost millions of dollars and many lives," Cathleen Jones, who also worked on the study, said in a statement. "When there is small movement prior to a catastrophic collapse, such subtle precursory clues can be detected."

Every thing is likely to work in theory but even the scientists who worked on the study were not sure of cent percent accuracy of spotting a future sinkhole. 

"You could spend a lot of time flying and processing data without capturing a sinkhole," Blom added. "Our discovery at Bayou Corne was really serendipitous."

"Since I work for an aircraft radar it's kind of expensive and time consuming to deploy," Jones told Design and Trend. "So it's better to use satellites for that kind of study where you're doing more than a pilot study. And there are satellites that can be used at this time and also the U.S. plans to launch a satellite in the future."

The study is published in the journal Geology

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