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The dissolution of limestone and chalk (soluble carbonates) through geological time can lead to the creation of naturally formed cavities in the rock. The cavities can be air, water, rock or soil infilled and can occur at shallow levels within the carbonate rock surface or at deeper levels below. Depending upon the geological sequence, as the cavities break down and become unstable they can cause overlying rock strata to settle and tilt and also collapse of non-cemented strata and superficial deposits as voids migrate upwards to the surface. Natural cavities can be present in a stable or potentially unstable condition. The latter may be disturbed and triggered to cause ground instability by the action of percolating water, loading or vibration. The outcrops of various limestones and chalk occur widely across the UK, posing a significant subsidence hazard to existing and new land development and people. In addition to subsidence they can also create a variety of other problems such as slope instability, generate pathways for pollutants and soil gas to travel along and impact all manner of engineering works. Knowledge of natural cavities is essential for planning, development control and the construction of safe development.

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