What would cause the need of a geotechnical engineer?

Geotechnical engineers are skilled consultants in their field and are called out for hundreds of varying reasons.

Production of new roads – The British road system has been built over decades of hard work and planning, and each year plans are made to improve our existing infrastructure. The Geotechnical Engineer is brought in to assess the risk to human and environmental health, conducting tests to assess the needs of the roads and how best to facilitate them, factoring in the costs and environmental elements. Roads require consistent and extensive forward planning, particularly if they will be interlinking with existing roads or be part of an overpassing junction that causes significant disruption to the area. Disruption to the area will mostly look like excessive traffic as road works to close off roads and redirect people from their usual routes, traffic light systems can also impact traffic, and people can expect to take longer to get to wherever they need to go.

Tunnelling – large projects like Transport for London in the creation of new tube lines, or even their maintenance, require the input of a geotechnical engineer who can appropriately assess the situation, how the end goal could be achieved, using what tools, and how much it could cost. Other large scale tunnelling projects could include railways through mountains. The density and type of rock need to be analysed to see if it is appropriate for drilling, as it may not be dense enough to retain its form once disrupted, this could lead to serious save ins, lands slides and damage to rails.

Naturally occurring issues are prevalent hazards in this line of work.

Seismic changes are the natural shifting of the earth’s crust. Seismic activity can be slow and not noticed in short periods of time, or it could look like a volcanic eruption, an earthquake, the formation of mountains and glacial changes. These changes can cause subsidence in homes, cracks in roads and destabilisation in bridges or railways. You can often see evidence of a geotechnical engineer’s involvement when driving in a particularly hilly our mountainous area, or driving through valleys, where the sides that would normally be rocky and unstable, are covered in a wireframe that protects passing vehicles from falling debris, triggered by the constant vibrations of passing traffic.

Other natural disasters such as tsunamis can dramatically change the fabric of the land. They can cause widespread flooding which will saturate the ground with water, making it unpredictable, unstable, and dangerous. The force behind such occurrences can also damage existing structures, which will need to be seen too when the event of the disaster is over. A Geotechnical Engineer may decide that the structure needs to be dismantled entirely, or that it can be repaired, and the best possible method for this. An engineer’s role could also be to assess how an area can be protected from future natural disasters such as coastal damage and flooding.