Understanding the true quality of something often requires looking below the surface.
This is true of land and other natural resources.
Dr. Kevin Mickus, distinguished professor of geology, and Dr. Doug Gouzie, professor of geology and departmental director of graduate studies, at Missouri State University recently worked on a local environmental project addressing diesel leakage into a spring.
“The water was located at a place that used to house railroad cars. Tar and diesel had been dumped into the ground there,” Mickus said.
But how did the tar and diesel get into the spring?
Fractures, like deep cracks or crevices in rocks, are the culprit, noted Mickus.
“By finding a fracture, we were able to find the source of the leak contaminating the water that had been unknown,” he said. “When these contaminants seep into soil, it can hit a fracture and travel away from the area. We want to know exactly where it goes.”
Mickus recently authored a chapter in a textbook published by Elsevier covering the geophysical methods involved in studying soil.
A non-invasive means of unearthing knowledge
Mickus has conducted studies locally and as far as the Himalayas and Africa.
One technique he’s newly using to make a local impact is called seismic noise analysis.
“The technique draws from really small disruptions in the ground that create vibrations as noise. Sources of this noise could be anything from cars or humans passing and wind,” Mickus said. “Through analyzing this noise, we can locate shallow layers in the soil and determine the layers’ thickness.”
This could be used to find the depth of caves – something abundant in Missouri.
Mickus and a graduate student have been applying the method, among others, to determine the extent of a cave in Nixa, Missouri.
They’ve employed this method because it does not require drilling or use of explosive material to collect data, Mickus explains.
“With drilling and explosives, not all energy goes into the ground. Some also rises and can cause craters,” he said. “While we are able to fill these in, it’s valuable to have a means of protecting land from such damage.”
The scope of sinkholes in Missouri
Ground in Missouri is rarely set, even if made of stone.
“There are hundreds of sinkholes throughout Springfield and greater Southwest Missouri,” Mickus said. “They’re practically everywhere.”
Sinkholes as depressions in the ground can make local land unusable for homes, even if popping up beneath them.
In such cases, the land is often converted to city-owned parks, Mickus shares.
“Knowing land’s sinkhole status has become a key aspect of getting home insurance,” he said.
While sinkholes are difficult to prevent, they can be filled in.
Identifying sinkholes can result from knowing the signs to look for in land. This is especially relevant to those engaging in construction projects.
“Residents should watch for circular depressions on property,” Mickus said. “Water rising from the ground could also indicate a fracture is present beneath land’s surface.”