Geotechnical engineering deals with many types of infrastructure – tunnels, bridges, dams, buildings, roads, railways, ports and landfills – that are built on the ground. The ground nearly always has a complicated behaviour, whatever the type of soil or rock it is made of.
What does a geotechnical engineer do?
All construction takes place in or on the ground, so it is easy to see how geotechnical engineering plays a crucial role in all civil engineering projects. Before any construction work takes place, it is vitally important to do a site investigation. Failure to carry this out often has had negative and expensive consequences on construction projects.
Geotechnical engineers guard and maintain the earth’s physical environment during the development of major public and private projects. Combining their expertise in civil engineering construction and design enables them to safely investigate and analyze sites and determine their present and future stability. Projects like these typically involve major changes to the physical environment, and can include tunnelling and construction of major structures like buildings, bridges, dams, airport runways, and towers.
Geotechnical engineers perform the following functions within the framework of the following jobs:
- Geotechnical or Geological Engineers (General) – provide analysis and mapping of technical results obtained from seismic surveys, and investigate subsurface conditions and materials to determine their properties and risks.
- Geotechnical or Geological Engineer (Oil Sands Projects) – design open pit walls, mine waste dumps and dam structures used in oil sands mining, and analyze slope stability, seepage and hydraulic separation on dam structures.
- Hydrogeological Engineer – provide design and analysis of ponds containing discarded oil sands materials, water extraction from soil and sand, and steam injection into wells; and evaluate underground water layers trapped in rocks (aquifers). They also provide advice on environmental restoration.
- Reservoir Geomechanics Engineer (Oil & Gas Operations) – analyze the strength of soils, drill hole stability, stress constraint, permeability of rock formations and the degree of trapped hydrocarbons in underground reservoirs.
- Geomechanics Engineers (Marine Operations) – analyze the relationship between physical structures and marine geology, anchoring systems, sediment erosion, slope stability, and foundations for offshore and coastal structures.
What makes a good geotechnical engineer?
A good geotechnical engineer must clearly understand the behaviours of soil and rock mechanics. They need to know soil-rock-structural components, behaviours and interactions. And how these components work together to support structural buildings, roads, rails, tunnels, dams etc. Geotechnical engineering is a constantly evolving field, they need to keep up with the latest research works and technologies.
Geotechnical engineers make our world a better and safer place.
Beyond their construction role, the geotechnical engineer will also deal with geological hazards like landslides, soil erosion and, in some extreme conditions, earthquakes.
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