The idea of the ground opening without warning and swallowing you up is nightmare fuel. As populations grow and humans invent new ways to plunder underground resources, sinkholes are only becoming more common—just look at the US sinkhole capital, Florida.
But America’s space agency, NASA, said today it may have developed a way to predict sinkholes up to a month before the ground collapses, saving lives and money. The early warning is provided by interferometric synthetic aperture radar (iSAR), which could be mounted on planes or satellites to scan sinkhole prone areas.
iSAR scans the ground multiple times in multiple wavelengths to put together interferograms, which can show tiny movements of the earth, including the ripples of earthquakes, the effects of flooding on riverbanks, or where the ground is sinking. This interferogram shows the ground sinking near oil wells in California:
Phi Beta Iota: Sinkholes are generally caused by humans. A common cause is poorly installed and maintained water mains that gradually hollow out the ground between them and the surface. One can only speculate about how much cheaper if might be to stop causing the sinkholes instead of focusing on finding them after massive capital investments have been made around and above them.