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Discussion papers | Copyright
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 16 Jul 2018

Research article | 16 Jul 2018

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. A revision of the manuscript is under review for the journal Solid Earth (SE).

Geomechanical modelling of sinkhole development using Distinct Elements: Model verification for a single void space and application to the Dead Sea area

Djamil Al-Halbouni1, Eoghan P. Holohan2, Abbas Taheri3, Martin P. J. Schöpfer4, Sacha Emam5, and Torsten Dahm1,6 Djamil Al-Halbouni et al.
  • 1Helmholtz Centre – German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ), Section 2.1, Telegrafenberg, Potsdam 14473, Germany
  • 2UCD School of Earth Sciences, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland
  • 3School of Civil, Environmental and Mining Engineering, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia 5005, Australia
  • 4Department for Geodynamics and Sedimentology, University of Vienna, Athanstrasse 14, 1090, Vienna, Austria
  • 5Geomechanics and Software Engineer, Itasca Consultants S.A.S, Écully, France
  • 6Institute of Earth and Environment, University of Potsdam

Abstract. Mechanical and/or chemical removal of material from the subsurface may generate large sub-surface cavities, the destabilisation of which can lead to hazardous ground collapse and the formation of enclosed depressions termed sinkholes. Numerical simulation of the interaction of cavity growth, host material deformation and overburden collapse is desirable to better understand the sinkhole hazard, but is a challenging task due to the involved high strains and material discontinuities. Here we present a 2D Distinct Element Method numerical simulations of cavity growth and sinkhole development. Firstly, we simulate cavity formation by quasi-static, step-wise removal of material in a single growing zone of an arbitrary geometry and depth. We benchmark this approach against analytical and Boundary Element Method models of a deep void space in a linear elastic material. Secondly, we explore the effects of material properties on cavity stability and sinkhole development. We perform simulated biaxial tests to calibrate macroscopic geomechanical parameters of three model materials that reflect literature and field-based estimates for three materials in which sinkholes develop at the Dead Sea shoreline: mud, alluvium and salt. We show that weak materials do not support large cavities, leading to gradual sagging or suffusion style subsidence. Strong materials support quasi-stable to stable cavities, the overburdens of which may fail suddenly in a caprock or bedrock collapse style. Thirdly we examine the consequences of layered arrangements of weak and strong materials. We find that these are more susceptible to sinkhole collapse than uniform materials not only due to a lower integrated strength of the overburden, but also due to an inhibition of stabilising stress arching. Fourthly we compare our model sinkhole geometries to observations at the Ghor al-Haditha sinkhole site on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea in Jordan. Sinkhole depth to diameter ratios of 0.15 in mud, 0.37 in alluvium and 0.33 in salt are reproduced successfully in the calibrated model materials. The model results suggest that the observed distribution of sinkhole depth/diameter values in each material type may partly reflect sinkhole growth trends.

Djamil Al-Halbouni et al.
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Djamil Al-Halbouni et al.
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Short summary
Sinkholes are round depression features in the ground that can cause high economic and life loss. At the Dead Sea shoreline hundreds of sinkholes form each year driven by the fall of the water level and subsequent out-washing and dissolution of loose sediments. This study investigates the mechanical formation of sinkholes by numerical modeling. It highlights the role of the material strength in the formation of dangerous collapse sinkholes and compares it to findings from a field site in Jordan.
Sinkholes are round depression features in the ground that can cause high economic and life...