Geotechnical engineering, or geotechnics, is the use of scientific methods and engineering practices to predict the behavior of the Earth, with an emphasis on rock and soil behavior. In other words, it is the analysis, design, and construction of any system that is made from or supported by soil or rock. Some specialist fields that fall under the umbrella of geotechnical engineering are soil and rock mechanics, geophysics and hydrogeology. Geotechnical engineering is multi-disciplinary, meaning that those who work in this sector must have a working knowledge of various engineering fields, including ocean engineering, petroleum engineering, and structural engineering.
Geotechnical engineering was developed in the early 20th century by Austrian scientist Karl Terzaghi.
Some tasks that a geotechnical engineer might have include:
- Assessing slope stability and the probability of landslides
- Defining the soil’s strength
- Predicting and preventing damage caused by various natural hazards
- Designing and predicting the performance of dams
- Designing and predicting the performance of bridges
- Predicting and controlling flooding
Before beginning a job, a geotechnical engineer must do a site investigation. If they don’t conduct a site investigation, there could be both negative and expensive results. During major construction projects, geotechnical engineers may be called in to monitor the physical condition of the earth. They might also provide input on the results from seismic surveys, extract water from sand and soil, inject steam into wells, and advise and supervise environmental restoration.
Geotechnical engineers must be skilled in certain areas, including math and science. They must also have excellent technical skills as they perform computer analyses of all the specimens they collect. They are often curious and logical since they spend a lot of time predicting and analyzing. Most geotechnical engineers hold at least a Bachelor’s degree in geology, mathematics, or science.
Geotechnical engineers spend their time working in one of two places: in the field surveying and collecting, or in computer laboratories and offices analyzing their work. Geotechnical engineers travel a lot and are often exposed to inclement weather conditions. They might find employment at any of the following places:
- Colleges or universities
- Construction agencies
- Utility companies
- Mining companies
- Government agencies
- Public and private research companies
- Real estate development agencies
- Oil and petroleum service companies
This is a job that is continuously changing, so geotechnical engineers must be able to adapt to their environments. This includes learning how to operate new equipment, staying up to date with safety regulations, and staying on top of scientific and industry news.