Sinkhole scanner: A new method to detect sinkhole-related spatio-temporal patterns in insar deformation time series

A. Kulshrestha*, Ling Chang, A. Stein

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
43 Downloads (Pure)


Sinkholes are sudden disasters that are usually small in size and occur at unexpected locations. They may cause serious damage to life and property. Sinkhole-prone areas can be monitored using Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) time series. Defining a pattern using InSAR-derived spatio-temporal deformations, this study presents a sinkhole pattern detector, called the Sinkhole Scanner. The Sinkhole Scanner includes a spatio-temporal mathematical model such as a 2-dimensional time evolving Gaussian function as a kernel, which moves over the study area using a sliding window approach. The scanner attempts to fit the model over deformation time series of Constantly Coherent Scatterers (CCS) intersected by the window and returns the posterior variance as a measure of goodness of fit. In this way, the scanner searches for subsiding regions resembling sinkhole shapes over a sinkhole prone area. It is designed to detect large sinkholes with a high efficiency, and small sinkholes with a lower efficiency. It is tested at four different spatial scales, and on a simulated and real set of deformation data. Real data were obtained from Sentinel-1A SLC data in IW mode, over Ireland where a large sinkhole occurred on 24 September 2018. The Sinkhole Scanner was able to identify a pattern of low posterior variance zones consistent with the simulated set. In case of the real data, it is able to identify significantly low posterior variance zones near the sinkhole area with the lowest value being 51.1% of the maximum value. The results from Sinkhole Scanner over the real sinkhole site were compared with Multiple Hypothesis Testing (MHT), which identifies Breakpoint and Heaviside temporal anomalies in the deformation time series of CCS. MHT was able to identify high likelihood for Heaviside anomalies in deformation time series of CCS near the sinkhole site about 10 epochs before the sinkhole occurrence. We show that the Sinkhole Scanner is efficient in monitoring a large area and search for sinkholes and that MHT can be used successively to identify temporal anomalies in the vicinity of areas detected by the Sinkhole Scanner. Future research may address other Sinkhole shapes whereas the underlying stochastic model may be adjusted. We conclude that the Sinkhole Scanner is important to be applied at different levels of scale to converge on potential sinkhole centers.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2906
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalRemote sensing
Issue number15
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jul 2021


  • Anomaly detection
  • Gaussian modeling
  • Least squares estimation
  • Multiple hypothesis testing
  • Sinkhole simulation
  • Sinkholes


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