Chalk rocks have been used for centuries as a strong building material and for the production of lime. The shallow underground room-and-pillar quarries where the chalk was extracted are now abandoned and endure the effects of time and weathering, increasing their risk of collapse. The risk of instability, involving natural or anthropic underground structures, is an issue for more than 10 000 towns in France.

In order to investigate the causes of underground quarry collapse and to aid prevention strategies, we carried out a study of the physico-mechanical behaviour and ageing of chalk in abandoned pillars in two underground quarries, in situ-instrumented by INERIS, in the Parisian Basin, France. Core samples were drilled horizontally from pillars in the Saint-Martin-Le-Noeud dolomitic chalk quarry (Oise, France) and the Estreux glauconitic chalk quarry (Nord, France).

Uniaxial tests were performed on dry and saturated cylindrical plug samples extracted perpendicular to the cores at regular distances along their lengths. Physical and mechanical properties were obtained. The dolomitic chalk (Saint-Martin-Le-Noeud) exhibits variation in mechanical and physical properties with horizontal pillar depth. Both density and compressive strength seem to increase outwards from the pillar-core to the pillar-wall. This is the opposite of that would be expected from a purely mechanical point of view. SEM analysis revealed progressive degradation and homogeneity of the grains from the edge to the inside of the pillar. At the pillar wall, the crystal faces are well-defined, almost euhedral, and the grains are of variable size. In contrast, at the inside of the pillar, crystals are finer-grained and are anhedral with highly degraded edges. In the physico-mechanical tests and SEM analyses performed on the Estreux samples, no significant variation was observed between the pillar-walls and pillar-core. However, dissolution marks were observed along the entire length of the half-pillar core.

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