Subsidence is the motion of a surface (usually, the Earth’s surface) as it shifts downward relative to a datum such as sea-level. The opposite of subsidence is uplift, which results in an increase in elevation. Ground subsidence is of concern to geologists, geotechnical engineers and surveyors.
Subsidence frequently causes major problems in karst terrains, where dissolution of limestone by fluid flow in the subsurface causes the creation of voids (i.e. caves). If the roof of these voids becomes too weak, it can collapse and the overlying rock and earth will fall into the space, causing subsidence at the surface. This type of subsidence can result in sinkholes which can be many hundreds of meters deep.
Several types of sub-surface mining, and specifically methods which intentionally cause the extracted void to collapse (such as pillar extraction, longwall mining and any metalliferous mining method which utilities “caving” such as “block caving” or “sub-level caving”) will result in surface subsidence. Mining induced subsidence is relatively predictable in its magnitude, manifestation and extent, except where a sudden pillar or near-surface underground tunnel collapse occurs (usually very old workings). Mining-induced subsidence is nearly always very localized to the surface above the mined area, plus a margin around the outside.[dead link] The vertical magnitude of the subsidence itself typically does not cause problems, except in the case of drainage (including natural drainage) – rather it is the associated surface compressive and tensile strains, curvature, tilts and horizontal displacement that are the cause of the worst damage to the natural environment, buildings and infrastructure.
Where mining activity is planned, mining-induced subsidence can be successfully managed if there is co-operation from all of the stakeholders. This is accomplished through a combination of careful mine planning, the taking of preventive measures, and the carrying out of repairs post-mining.