Geophysical response of filled sinkholes, soil pipes and associated bedrock fractures in thinly mantled karst, east-central Illinois

Shawkat Ahmed
Philip J. Carpenter


Karst aquifers are often protected by a thin mantle of unconsolidated sediment. Soil pipes and sinkholes may breach this natural protective barrier and open pathways for contaminants to quickly reach bedrock aquifers. Geophysical surveys offer a quick and noninvasive way to identify these features; such surveys may also be sequenced to reveal increasing detail in critical areas. At a study site in east-central Illinois, electromagnetic (EM) surveys mapped high conductivity anomalies over filled sinkholes and soil pipes that penetrated the unconsolidated cover. Two-dimensional inverted resistivity sections, made over these anomalies, depict filled sinkholes and soil pipes as conductive zones above deeply weathered bedrock fractures. Borings verified the geophysical models and suggest high conductivities associated with the filled sinkholes are the result of enhanced moisture near active soil pipes. EM surveys also identified conductive zones in the overburden above a probable bedrock fracture linking sinkhole areas 0.5 km apart. Resistivity and EM methods, used in a phased and sequential manner, thus proved useful in mapping filled sinkholes and in delineating the vertical and lateral connections between soil pipes and hydraulically active bedrock fractures.