In Fazenda Belém oil field (Potiguar Basin, Ceará State, northeast Brazil) occur frequently sinkholes and sudden terrain collapses associated to an unconsolidated sedimentary cap covering the Jandaíra karst. This research was carried out in order to understand the mechanisms of generation of these collapses. The main tool used was Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR). This work is developed twofold: one aspect concerns methodology improvements in GPR data processing whilst another aspect concerns the geological study of the Jandaíra karst. This second aspect was strongly supported both by the analysis of outcropping karst structures (in another regions of Potiguar Basin) and by the interpretation of radargrams from the subsurface karst in Fazenda Belém.
It was designed and tested an adequate flux to process GPR data which was adapted from an usual flux to process seismic data. The changes were introduced to take into account important differences between GPR and Reflection Seismic methods, in particular: poor coupling between source and ground, mixed phase of the wavelet, low signal-to-noise ratio, monochannel acquisition, and high influence of wave propagation effects, notably dispersion. High frequency components of the GPR pulse suffer more pronounced effects of attenuation than low frequency components resulting in resolution losses in radargrams. In Fazenda Belém, there is a stronger need of an suitable flux to process GPR data because both the presence of a very high level of aerial events and the complexity of the imaged subsurface karst structures. The key point of the processing flux was an improvement in the correction of the attenuation effects on the GPR pulse based on their influence on the amplitude and phase spectra of GPR signals. In low and moderate losses dielectric media the propagated signal suffers significant changes only in its amplitude spectrum; that is, the phase spectrum of the propagated signal remains practically unaltered for the usual travel time ranges. Based on this fact, it is shown using real data that the judicious application of the well known tools of time gain and spectral balancing can efficiently correct the attenuation effects. The proposed approach can be applied in heterogeneous media and it does not require the precise knowledge of the attenuation parameters of the media. As an additional benefit, the judicious application of spectral balancing promotes a partial deconvolution of the data without changing its phase. In other words, the spectral balancing acts in a similar way to a zero phase deconvolution. In GPR data the resolution increase obtained with spectral balancing is greater than those obtained with spike and predictive deconvolutions.
The evolution of the Jandaíra karst in Potiguar Basin is associated to at least three events of subaerial exposition of the carbonatic plataform during the Turonian, Santonian, and Campanian. In Fazenda Belém region, during the mid Miocene, the Jandaíra karst was covered by continental siliciclastic sediments. These sediments partially filled the void space associated to the dissolution structures and fractures. Therefore, the development of the karst in this region was attenuated in comparison to other places in Potiguar Basin where this karst is exposed. In Fazenda Belém, the generation of sinkholes and terrain collapses are controlled mainly by: (i) the presence of an unconsolidated sedimentary cap which is thick enough to cover completely the karst but with sediment volume lower than the available space associated to the dissolution structures in the karst; (ii) the existence of important structural of SW-NE and NW-SE alignments which promote a localized increase in the hydraulic connectivity allowing the channeling of underground water, thus facilitating the carbonatic dissolution; and (iii) the existence of a hydraulic barrier to the groundwater flow, associated to the Açu-4 Unity.
The terrain collapse mechanisms in Fazenda Belém occur according to the following temporal evolution. The meteoric water infiltrates through the unconsolidated sedimentary cap and promotes its remobilization to the void space associated with the dissolution structures in Jandaíra Formation. This remobilization is initiated at the base of the sedimentary cap where the flow increases its abrasion due to a change from laminar to turbulent flow regime when the underground water flow reaches the open karst structures. The remobilized sediments progressively fill from bottom to top the void karst space. So, the void space is continuously migrated upwards ultimately reaching the surface and causing the sudden observed terrain collapses. This phenomenon is particularly active during the raining season, when the water table – that normally is located in the karst – may be temporarily located in the unconsolidated sedimentary cap.