Anticipating and managing engineering problems in the complex karst environment


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June 2015


Karst environments are characterized by distinctive landforms and a peculiar hydrologic behavior dominated by subsurface drainage. Karst systems can be extremely complex, heterogeneous, and unpredictable due to the wide range of geological and hydrological controlling factors. The great variability results in serious problems for engineers, and in difficulties to characterize the karstified rock masses, and in designing the engineering works to be performed. The design and development of engineering projects in karst environments require specific approaches aimed at minimizing the detrimental effects of hazardous processes and environmental problems. Further, karst aquifers (that provide approximately 20–25 % of the world’s drinking water) are extremely vulnerable to pollution, due to the direct connection between the surface and the subsurface drainage, the rapidity of the water flow in conduit networks, and the very low depuration capability. Sinkholes are the main source of engineering problems in karst environments, and may cause severe damage in any human structure. The strategies and solutions that may be applied to mitigate sinkhole problems are highly variable and largely depend on the kind of engineering structure, the karst setting, and the typology and size of the sinkholes. A sound geological model, properly considering the peculiarities of karst and its interactions with the human environment, is essential for the design of cost-effective and successful risk reduction programs. Due to the unique direct interaction between surface and subsurface environments, and the frequent ground instability problems related to underground karstification, management of karst environments is a very delicate matter. Disregarding such circumstances in land-use planning and development inevitably results in severe problems with high economic impacts. Karst environments require specific investigation methods in order to properly manage and safeguard the sensitive geo-ecosystems and natural resources associated with them


Karst, Hazards, Sinkholes, Floods, Aquifer, Pollution, Management

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