Methods for monitoring land subsidence and earth fissures in the Western USA
- Amec Foster Wheeler, Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Abstract. Depletion of groundwater resources in many deep alluvial basin aquifers in the Western USA is causing land subsidence, as it does in many regions worldwide. Land subsidence can severely and adversely impact infrastructure by changing the ground elevation, ground slope (grade) and through the development of ground cracks known as earth fissures that can erode into large gullies. Earth fissures have the potential to compromise the foundations of dams, levees, and other infrastructure and cause failure.
Subsequent to an evaluation of the overall subsidence experienced in the vicinity of subsidence-impacted infrastructure, a detailed investigation to search for earth fissures, and design and/or mitigation of potentially effected infrastructure, a focused monitoring system should be designed and implemented. Its purpose is to provide data, and ultimately knowledge, to reduce the potential adverse impacts of land subsidence and earth fissure development to the pertinent infrastructure. This risk reduction is realized by quantifying the rate and distribution of ground deformation, and to detect ground rupture if it occurs, in the vicinity of the infrastructure.
The authors have successfully designed and implemented monitoring systems capable of quantifying rates and distributions of ground subsidence and detection of ground rupture at multiple locations throughout the Western USA for several types of infrastructure including dams, levees, channels, basins, roadways, and mining facilities. Effective subsidence and earth fissure monitoring requires understanding and quantification of historic subsidence, estimation of potential future subsidence, delineation of the risk for earth fissures that could impact infrastructure, and motivation and resources to continue monitoring through time. A successful monitoring system provides the means to measure ground deformation, grade changes, displacement, and anticipate and assess the potential for earth fissuring. Employing multiple methods, a monitoring strategy utilizes an integrated approach, including both regional and local measurements.
Various methods implemented include conventional practices and proven, instrumented in-ground sensing systems. The conventional techniques include repeat optical levelling and global positioning system (GPS) surveys, ground reconnaissance, photo-geological analysis, groundwater monitoring, and tape-extensometers. Advanced techniques include the processing and interpretation of differential interferograms of repeat-pass, satellite-based synthetic aperture radar data (InSAR), borehole tiltmeters, microseismic arrays, excavation of monitoring trenches, and time-domain reflectometry (TDR).