The expeditions of the geoscientist from University of Cagliari. Cutting-edge devices to understand how to avoid collapses in mines
Daniela Pani (translation from Stefano Ambu article)
A cave chamber about 1 km long, 400 m wide and another 400 m high: perhaps the largest classroom in the world. The prof is Sardinian; her name is Daniela Pani. Yet, the students are Chinese, and the lessons take place right in China. One single subject: scanning caves. And the teacher too is unique in the world. Not just because she’s a good teacher, but because she’s the only one teaching this subject. Students do not use pen and notebook, but laser scanners. And to reach the scanning stations, it is often necessary climbing up and down using ropes, sometimes down to 200-300 meters of wells.
Carrying ultra-technological equipment with her. Pani has already done it in 2015 and now she is packing again for a new expedition next month. It is her life mission. What do they hunt in the Far East bowels of the earth? "They look for water ways - says Pani - the karstic areas are reservoirs. The water we will drink. This also applies to Sardinia. For China this is important: they allow us to realise geographic exploration and we gather information about caves ". The PhDs and Masters students belong to Chinese research institutes: the youngest can speak English, otherwise there is the interpreter.
Technology taught to those who wallow in technology? How comes? “True, they produce the technology - explains Pani - but in some application fields don’t have knowledge”. So they must call the Sardinian teacher, one of the few who knows how to make these surveys. Not only study and research, but also amazement for the natural wonders. Pani collaborates and takes part in expeditions with National Geographic. Wonders and dilemmas: "we still cannot explain why and how huge cave chambers can hold on top thousands of meters of rock. Still, they are the safest places in the world, even in case of earthquake".
In Sardinia Pani does “usual” activities. She is a geoscientist, and works for the General Directorate of Civil Protection. This is institutional work. Then the figure of the scientist comes into play. In particular, a scientific speleologist. It is her passion; she has been speleologist for the last thirty years. Exploration and measurements. “we think that planet Earth is entirely explored. In part it is true, partly not. There are still areas totally unexplored, the bottom of the oceans and underground voids”. Underground void means caves. There are also artificial underground voids, mines.
Studying rocks in China could also be important to better understand what can happen here in Sardinia. “By scanning these natural underground voids - explains the scientist-speleologist - you learn a lot about the rock mechanic principle: you can understand, for example, how far you can dare digging mines". Many mines in Sardinia have been abandoned, and deserve attention. “There are over 350 kilometres of these underground mine voids only in the Iglesiente region: they are shallow and continually affect the stability of the surface. It is important to know and size the risk, this is a matter of civil protection. Every day in Sardinia sinkholes collapse". The "therapy", who knows, may come from China.