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NASA Technology Could Help Predict Sinkholes

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Out of nowhere sinkholes can swallow up the earth, sometimes taking cars and people with it.

Now, NASA says it may be able to predict where the next big sinkhole will occur, CBS 2’s Vanessa Murdock reported.

One sinkhole in Rockville Centre, Long Island nearly swallowed a car whole, and in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn another sinkhole left a car teetering on the edge.

A sinkhole in Tampa, Fla. opened up without warning while a man slept in his bed. His body was never recovered from the abyss that measured 30 feet deep.

NASA now says in some cases, warnings are possible.

The administration has demonstrated the ability to predict where a sinkhole might form using a specialized radar attached to the belly of a jet.

Researchers can measure the ground moving by scanning the surface from 40,000 feet, over and over again.

One month before a sinkhole took out trees in Los Angeles, NASA detected movement of nearly a foot.

“That Bayou Corne one is several acres now. It’s huge,” said William Branford, associate professor of Geology at Queens College.

Branford says sinkholes of that magnitude just don’t happen in the greater New York area.

“Most are the size of potholes. Some are much larger, maybe take a house down,” Branford said.

Because of the size of the sinkholes and the way they form — usually as a result of water main or sewer pipe breaks — Branford says he believes NASA’s technology wouldn’t work well in predicting sinkholes in the Tri-State area.

“I just don’t know how much lateral movement you’re going to see,” he said.

Branford does, however, see use for it in storm surge modeling.

“If you have a really good idea of the surface, you can see where the surge is going to come on up,” he explained.

The storm surge from Superstorm Sandy led to sinkholes along the Jersey Shore.

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