The Corvette sinkhole – sinks happen, car lovers lament

This story broke yesterday as geologists and car lovers took notice of this very unusual incident.
Corvettes fall into sinkhole at National Corvette Museum – CNN.com.

Eight valuable ‘vettes at Bowling Green, Kentucky’s National Corvette Museum fell victim to a 40-foot-wide, 20-foot-deep sinkhole that opened up in the facility’s yellow Sky Dome wing. The museum unofficially estimates it caused millions of dollars in damage.

Motion detectors alerted security that something was amiss shortly after 5:30 a.m., said museum spokeswoman Katie Frassinelli. An employee who first walked into the room “has been in shock all day,” she said.

“When you go in there, it’s unreal,” said Frassinelli. “The hole is so big, it makes the Corvettes look like little Matchbox cars.

Take a look at the video. You can see they sent in remote quadcopters with cameras to view the damage since sinkholes are unstable and the flooring is unsafe to walk on since the support may be removed. But they were able to remove the other cars on the surface and the ones in the hole.

Since this story is everywhere, I thought I’d give you a bit more on the geology of why this happened. Being very familiar with large sinkholes swallowing the ground, I’m used to seeing the interaction of karst with human society. It ain’t pretty but it is fascinating and an enormous challenge.

Notice in the video, the hole has pillars and masses of rock – the light-colored stuff, limestone/dolomite – that are irregular in distribution. In this area of karst topography, the bedrock is commonly “pinnacled” where the limestone has eroded away along fractures. Here is a visual example of that (location unknown but it gives you an idea)…

Photo from http://www.speleogenesis.info/

Photo from http://www.speleogenesis.info/

The uneven bedrock surface grades upward from solid rock to rotten rock (eroding) to clay soil material.

Photo from http://minerva.union.edu/

Photo from http://minerva.union.edu/

Movement of water underground (karst hydrology) causes the clay and loose material to move through the open fractures and solution cavities. This has the potential to allow for great volumes of material to migrate downward into open spaces in the rock, causing support to the surface to erode – like sand leaking through an hourglass. When the land surface is no longer supported, a sudden collapse can occur. Typically it is foreshadowed by cracks in the surface or noticable depressions, but not always.

sinkhole_diagram

The museum dome housing the expensive cars was constructed above a cave. Over time, the loose material migrated into the void and the floor catastrophically collapsed. The Bowling Green area of Western Kentucky is well-known for sinkhole problems due to the limestone/dolomite bedrock. (Nearby is Mammoth Cave National Park) I wonder how they did not have any warning from cracking of the pavement or slight sinking or did not do underground remote sensing to see if the ground was prone to collapse before building. The sinkhole does appear to be local in this 40 area and the building itself is not compromised.

National Corvette Museum handout photo shows a sink hole that swallowed eight Corvettes in Bowling Green

Geologists are investigating the collapse. It will not be easily fixed. Perhaps the cars may be restored. It is fortunate that the incident did not occur during visitor hours or we could have had a repeat of the Florida tragedy last year.

The point I’d like to reiterate is that sinkholes are NATURAL but are exacerbated by human action on the surface. When we disturb the natural layers or change the hydrology (water movement), we can hasten the collapse. If we are unaware of what lies beneath, we can have such losses. Sinkholes have NOTHING to do with earth changes or end times, etc. They have always happened and always will. It’s just that now, we put things on top that we mourn when they fall in and the news reports it.

More:

Some similar sinkhole catastrophes:

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  4 comments for “The Corvette sinkhole – sinks happen, car lovers lament

  1. Chris_H
    February 14, 2014 at 1:53 AM

    That was a horrible thing to happen.  Is there anyway to predict this, or protect by finding bedrock? 

    In my neck of the woods we have issues that there are water saturated areas where earthquakes occur (earthquake liquefaction).  So pilings are placed down to the bedrock, even under a <a href=”http://www.gohuskies.com/ViewArticle.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=30200&ATCLID=208477294″>track and field arena</a> (I live within walking distance, and we heard the pounding of the pilings for weeks): <blockquote> Underground pilings reinforce the running oval for all 400 meters, all
    the way around. The need for the pilings added a few million dollars to
    the project.</blockquote>
    There is a reason that two bridges that cross the nearby lake, Lake Washington, are mostly on pontoons.  While the lake’s deepest bit is about two hundred feet, it is around six hundred feet to the bedrock.  The rest is just non-structural silt. The depth to bedrock is an estimate from a long ago memory, because the MS Word report titled “Geomorphology and Shoreline History of Lake Washington, Union Bay, and Portage Bay Technical Memorandum” from Google is <b>not</b> loading.  But it is a valley created by a glaciers a long time ago, and you just have to look at the steep hills on either side going down to see that it if freaking deep.

    Are there ways to prevent this kind of catastrophic building collapse in an area known for sink holes?

  2. Chris Howard
    February 14, 2014 at 7:54 AM

    That area is known as Cave Country.
    I always assumed that they wouldn’t let people build out there for safety, and environmental reasons.
    So much for that. I just hope the new liquified natural gas pipeline doesn’t run through there.

  3. February 14, 2014 at 8:10 AM

    Chris_H  Yes, there are some ways to predict it. Land use zoning helps, construction standards, mandatory subsurface surveys. But I don’t know when this was built or what was required. Pilings anchored to bedrock are commonly used in karst areas (for bridges and buildings) but I’m not sure that would have helped in the case of a cave underground. The soil flows around the pilings and they lose lateral support. Many karst areas now institute some ordinances for building to address catastrophic failure.

  4. Chris Howard
    February 14, 2014 at 10:14 AM

    We recently had a gas pipeline burst, and explode, in Kentucky, as well.
    The legislature is now discussing a pipeline from Pennsylvania, and Ohio, through Kentucky to the refineries on the Gulf Coast.
    My, uneducated, guess is that it’s probably safer to transport liquified natural gas via a pipeline, rather than by railcar, or truck.
    Do they support a pipeline by anchoring it to the supports on bedrock, as you described above, or is there some other method that would make these pipelines safer?

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