Abstract

Volumetric depletion of a subsurface body commonly results in the collapse of overburden and the formation of enclosed topographic depressions. Such depressions are termed sinkholes in karst terrains and pit craters or collapse calderas in volcanic terrains. This paper reports the first use of computed X-ray microtomography (μCT) to image analog models of small-scale (∼< 2 km diameter), high-cohesion, overburden collapse induced by depletion of a near-cylindrical (“stock-like”) body. Time-lapse radiography enabled quantitative monitoring of the evolution of collapse structure, velocity, and volume. Moreover, μCT scanning enabled non-destructive visualization of the final collapse volumes and fault geometries in three dimensions. The results illustrate two end-member scenarios: (1) near-continuous collapse into the depleting body; and (2) near-instantaneous collapse into a subsurface cavity formed above the depleting body. Even within near-continuously collapsing columns, subsidence rates vary spatially and temporally, with incremental accelerations. The highest subsidence rates occur before and immediately after a surface depression is formed. In both scenarios, the collapsing overburden column undergoes a marked volumetric expansion, such that the volume of subsurface depletion substantially exceeds that of the resulting topographic depression. In the karst context, this effect is termed “bulking,” and our results indicate that it may occur not only at the onset of collapse but also during progressive subsidence. In the volcanic context, bulking of magma reservoir overburden rock may at least partially explain why the volume of magma erupted commonly exceeds that of the surface depression.

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