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Subsidence hazard avoidance based on geomorphological mapping in the Ebro River valley mantled evaporite karst terrain (NE Spain)

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Paul Younger


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In the valley of the Ebro River to the southeast of the city of Zaragoza (NE Spain), the dissolution of evaporite sediments (gypsum, halite and Na-sulphates) which underlie alluvial deposits gives rise to numerous sinkholes. These sinkholes are a potential hazard to human safety, particularly where they develop in a catastrophic way. Even slow-developing sinkholes are problematic, as they damage urban and agricultural infrastructure, necessitating costly repairs and vigilant maintenance. To assist in developing avoidance strategies for these hazards, the factors controlling sinkhole occurrence have been assessed using geomorphological maps produced from aerial photographs for 1956 and 1981. Important controls on sinkhole development are found to include underlying geological structure (manifest in preferred orientations of sinkholes on the azimuths N130-150E and N30-40E), and the presence of glauberite in the groundwater flow path, which apparently promotes accelerated gypsum dissolution. Perhaps surprisingly, alluvium thickness does not appear to significantly correlate with the density of sinkholes on the floodplain in this area. The maps for 1956 and 1981 reveal that both human activity and natural processes can serve to obscure the true density of sinkhole development. For instance, a large number of sinkholes which were conspicuous in 1956 have since been back-filled by farmers. In the most fluvially active zone of the Ebro valley (the meander belt), the relatively low density of sinkholes compared with adjoining zones suggests that subsidence is being masked by morpho-sedimentary dynamic processes (aggradation and erosion). Careful geomorphological mapping for different time periods yields a much more accurate impression of the frequency of sinkhole development than would be gained from surveying currently visible sinkholes in the area of interest. © Springer-Verlag 2005.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Gutierrez-Santolalla F, Gutierrez-Elorza M, Marin C, Maldonado C, Younger PL

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Environmental Geology

Year: 2005

Volume: 48

Issue: 3

Pages: 370-383

ISSN (print): 0943-0105

ISSN (electronic):

Publisher: Springer


DOI: 10.1007/s00254-005-1281-7


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