What is Geotechnical Engineering?

When starting a building project, part of your research involves predicting the behavior of the earth to determine if your building will be safe for the oncoming years. From a layman’s perspective, making accurate calculations can be daunting because many things happen underneath the earth, compromising the stability of building structures. This is where geotechnical engineering comes in handy. Read on to understand what geotechnical engineering is and how it applies to the building and construction industry.

What is geotechnical engineering?

Geotechnical engineering, also known as geotechnics, is a type of civil engineering that mainly relies on the science of soil strength and rock mechanics. Geotechnical engineers specifically analyze sand, rock, snow, and silt. These professionals study the earth’s characteristics and apply their scientific knowledge to determine if it is safe for human and animal habitation. 

Geotechnical experts specialize in merging scientific methods and principles with engineering to collect and interpret data likely to affect buildings. Their job is to apply theoretical knowledge in real-life situations. For example, suppose someone wants to set up a commercial building in a place that previously encountered heavy quarrying activities. In that case, geotechnical engineers will analyze if the ground is stable enough to support the structure. If they predict a likely occurrence of a landslide, they might advise the owner to find somewhere else to construct their property.

Branches of geotechnical engineering

Geotechnics operates under three branches:

Soil mechanics

This branch of geotechnics involves analyzing soil properties. It mainly establishes the relationship between scientific principles and soil mechanics in a specific place. By examining the soil kinematics, fluid, and materials mechanics, it is easy to determine if it is strong enough to support a building.

Rock mechanics

This branch entails engineering the composition and mechanics of rocks to determine their strength. Like soil mechanics, it establishes the action of forces on stones such as fluid and materials mechanics, kinematics, and dynamics.

Foundation engineering 

Foundation engineering merges the action of forces on rocks and soil. It is more likely geology only this time, and it dwells on structural engineering. This branch of geotechnics mainly applies to the design and construction of foundations. A foundation engineer foretells the performance of the said rock or soil supporting the structure and examines either option’s response in real-time. 

Why geotechnical engineering services are essential in the building and construction industry

Soil engineering and structural engineering go hand-in-hand. Both professions aim at identifying and fixing problems before they become bigger. They can also offer a professional opinion on the most effective construction practices to combat particular challenges that may affect a given area.

1. Their job description involves handling diverse applications

On top of project site evaluation and advising building contractors on how to accomplish their missions, geotechnical engineers also provide valuable services such as:

  • Foundation evaluation: They can analyze the foundation from underneath to determine if it can bear the weight of a building, reducing potential problems in the future.
  • Slope stability assessment: Geotechnics can identify the rock and soil strength for buildings constructed on uneven terrains or sloppy places. 
  • Pavement design: They also take part in designing and recommending ideal road and pavement construction practices.
  • Investigating and designing dam sites: Geotechnical engineers can identify the best place for dam construction and design the area.

Judging from the versatile applications geotechnical engineering handles, it is evident that they are the second most-needed professionals in the building and construction industry. Since they are numerate, understanding buildings and the forces that they apply to the ground is clear proof of why soil engineers exist. 

2. They offer professional advice in layman’s terms

Like any other engineering profession, soil engineering involves hands-on experience. A soil engineer does not sit in an office, waiting for clients to arrive so that they can offer their expert opinion. Instead, they work on-site. Understanding the relationship between geological processes and how the ground will respond to the applied forces allows them to think beyond the obvious. Their job also involves using straightforward language to explain how soil, rock, groundwater, and structures interact. 

3. They can recommend the best sites for buildings 

People looking to build homes, commercial and industrial buildings rely on geotechnical engineers to foretell the issues and suitability. Their input may also apply in the design and construction of tunnels, bridges, dams, slopes, foundations, and other structural properties supported by soil or rock. Potential issues that may affect the earth’s crust range from mining, quarrying, and other applications. Also, they can recommend methods of how to alleviate such potential hazards that can cost lives.

Geotechnical engineering does more than studying rocks and soil and leaving it at that. Instead, it goes on to provide building and construction contractors with a long-term solution. Finally, geotechnics and structural engineering must work alongside each other to increase a projects’ chances of success over the long term.