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Full Report

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Seismic Recordings of an Anthropogenic Sinkhole Collapse

Lewis Land, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Carlsbad, NM

Richard Aster, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Socorro, NM


On July 16, 2008, a sinkhole several tens of meters in diameter formed abruptly at the site of a brine well in Eddy Co., NM. The well operator had been injecting fresh water into salt beds of the Permian Salado Formation and pumping out the resulting brine for use as oil field drilling fluid. Borehole problems had prevented the operator from conducting required downhole sonar surveys to assess the dimensions of the resulting subsurface void and the collapse was unanticipated. EarthScope USArray Transportable Array three-component broadband seismograph TA126, located ~13 km southeast of the well, recorded ground motion associated with the sinkhole formation. Approximately 6 hours before surface disruption occurred, short period seismic signals became visible at the station, probably reflecting subsurface spalling and upward stoping of the cavern roof. This may be the first documented seismologic record of catastrophic sinkhole formation, and demonstrates that precursory seismic activity related to sinkholes of this size may be readily detectable at such ranges.

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