Sinkhole collapse may result in significant property damage and even loss of life. Early detection of sinkhole attributes (buried voids, raveling zones) is critical to limit the cost of remediation. One of the most promising ways to obtain subsurface imaging is 3D seismic full-waveform inversion. For demonstration, a recently developed 3D Gauss-Newton full-waveform inversion (3D GN-FWI) method is used to detect buried voids, raveling soils, and characterize variable subsurface soil/rock layering. It is based on a finite-difference solution of 3D elastic wave equations and Gauss-Newton optimization. The method is tested first on a data set constructed from the numerical simulation of a challenging synthetic model and subsequently on field data collected from two separate test sites in Florida. For the field tests, receivers and sources are placed in uniform 2D surface grids to acquire the seismic wavefields, which then are inverted to extract the 3D subsurface velocity structures. The inverted synthetic results suggest that the approach is viable for detecting voids and characterizing layering. The field seismic results reveal that the 3D waveform analysis identified a known manmade void (plastic culvert), unknown natural voids, raveling, as well as laterally variable soil/rock layering including rock pinnacles. The results are confirmed later by standard penetration tests, including depth to bedrock, two buried voids, and a raveling soil zone. Our study provides insight into the application of the 3D seismic FWI technique as a powerful tool in detecting shallow voids and other localized subsurface features.

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