Public Media for Central Pennsylvania
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Penn State researcher says fiber optic cables could give early warnings about sinkholes, like the one at Eisenhower Parking Deck

A closeup of an example of the fiber optic cables used in the FORESEE project. A hand is holding the cables in front of a blurred background of a wall and a shelf.
Sydney Roach
An example of the fiber optic cables used in the FORESEE project. This project tapped into the cables already underneath University Park's campus to detect vibrations from weather events.

A Penn State researcher says already existing fiber optic cables under University Park’s campus could help detect sinkholes before they happen, like the one last week in Eisenhower Parking Deck.

Tieyuan Zhu is an associate professor of geosciences at Penn State who has researched sinkholes in central Pennsylvania. He led the Fiber-Optic for Environmental Sensing, or FORESEE project, from 2019 to 2020. The project used a fiber optic cable already under campus to detect vibrations from weather events, including sinkholes.

Zhu said the goal was to increase early warning capabilities to government agencies and the public, but the project did not go on long enough to get reliable data. Zhu said there isn’t currently funding to continue the project in University Park, but would like to restart it and expand the area his team is monitoring.

“We know there are some historical sinkholes across the University Park campus, so we can design a map across that region,” Zhu said.

Zhu said Pennsylvania has special geology compared to other states that makes it more prone to sinkholes. He said Pennsylvania has karst landscapes made with limestone that tend to have lots of cavities for water to get into.

Zhu is conducting a similar project in Pittsburgh starting in October, which he said will help paint a clearer picture of Pennsylvania’s unique geology and improve early warning capabilities.

Sydney Roach is a reporter and host for WPSU with a passion for radio and community stories.