Landslide and Subsidence Potential due to the Progressive Development of Cave Network in Ella-Wellawaya Area, Sri Lanka

P. Jayasingha, G. Jayathissa, R.M.S. Bandara, W.S. Weliange, R.A.L. Osborne, A.S. Dandeniya, A.K.P.P. Algiriya, S. Senanayake, M. Champika, N.S. Prasannajith


Carbonate rocks are highly soluble. Sinkholes are formed by both the failure of solution cavities and
the rapid removal of fines from solution cavities in carbonate and metacarbonate rocks. Sri Lankan
landmass is composed of Proterozoic high-grade metamorphic rocks such as gneiss and
metacarbonates like marble. Large caves in Sri Lanka form in both marble and gneiss. A few land
subsidence events have occurred recently in Ella-Wellawaya area, which is a hilly terrain. In addition,
some cases of groundwater table lowering, which has caused drying of dug wells have also been
recorded within the area, apparently related to a major development project presently under way in the

The main objective of this paper is to draw the immediate attention of local researchers and
authorities whom are working on mitigation and management of disasters, groundwater and climate
change, showing the importance of carrying out detail studies on potential landslides and land
subsidence of Ella-Wellawaya area for avoiding and minimising loss of humans and properties.
Preliminary surveys on some land subsidence cases and speleological studies including geology,
hydrogeology and morphological mapping of the underground caves in the area have been actively
carried out. According to the results, it is shown that the subsidence is likely to be correlated with the
collapsing of cavities and weathered zones in metacarbonates, and disturbances to the groundwater
table. Field explorations done during the last two years have discovered several large underground
caves in the area some more than 100 m across. Most of the cave roofs have been thinned by the
breakdown of bedrock along weak zones such as joints. Since the process of collapse, trigged by
weathering is continuing and patches and lenses of carbonate rocks observed in the caves are still
being dissolved, the expansion of the cave spaces is unending. Some of the chambers of these caves
are aligned parallel to the steep slopes in the Ella-Wellawaya area and some acted as underground
water conduits and storages during the rainy seasons. The Ella-Wellawaya area has been undergone a
change in vegetation cover since the colonial period and hence the area is more prone to soil erosion
which exposes the near surface natural cavities to the underground caves. Present human exposures
and interactions within the susceptible slopes have brought lives and properties under threat. Hence
future land subsidence and landslide occurrences are highly predictable with the recent conditions in
the area and hence threat to human life and properties is high. The tourism industry, unique to the area
could particularly be affected. Hence such hazardous should properly be identified and demarcated
and the erosion triggered by present vegetation changes must properly be addressed.

Keywords: Metacarbonate rocks, Subsidence, Ella-Wellawaya, Cave network, Erosion

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Proceedings of International Forestry and Environment Symposium, Sri Lanka. Published by Department of Forestry and Environmental Science, University of Sri Jayewardenepura