Main content area

Detecting and characterizing unroofed caves by ground penetrating radar

Čeru, Teja, Šegina, Ela, Knez, Martin, Benac, Čedomir, Gosar, Andrej
Geomorphology 2017
caves, geometry, ground-penetrating radar, karsts, sediments, surveys, vegetation, Croatia
The bare karst surface in the southeastern part of Krk Island (Croatia) is characterized by different surface karst features, such as valley-like shallow linear depressions and partially or fully sediment-filled depressions of various shapes and sizes. They were noticed due to locally increased thickness of sediment and enhanced vegetation but had not yet been systematically studied and defined. Considering only the geometry of the investigated surface features and the rare traces of cave environments detected by field surveys, it was unclear which processes (surface karstification and/or speleogenesis) contributed most to their formation. The low-frequency ground penetrating radar (GPR) method using a special 50MHz RTA antenna was applied to study and describe these karst features. Three study sites were chosen and 5km of GPR profiles were positioned to include various surface features. The results obtained from the GPR investigation lead to the following conclusions: (1) an increased thickness of sediment was detected in all the investigated depressions indicating their considerable depth; (2) areas between different depressions expressed as attenuated zones in GPR images reveal their interconnection; (3) transitions between surface and underground features are characterized by a collapsed passage visible in the GPR data; and (4) an underground continuation of surface valley-like depressions was detected, proving the speleogenetic origin of such features. Subsurface information obtained using GPR indicates that the valley-like depressions, irregular depressions completely or partially filled with sediment, and some dolines are associated with a nearly 4km-long unroofed cave and developed as a result of karst denudation. In the regional context, these results suggest long-lasting karstification processes in the area, in contrast to the pre-karstic fluvial phase previously assumed to have occurred here. This research is the first application of the GPR method to survey unroofed caves worldwide and the first detailed study of such karst features in Croatia. The low-frequency GPR proved to be an efficient method not only for detecting underground continuations but also for distinguishing and identifying surface features and transition zones between surface and subsurface segments of unroofed caves and can therefore be used for recognizing similar geomorphological features.