Engineering geology is the application of geologic techniques to address needs in construction, human sustainability and environmental protection. This includes hydrogeology, earth mechanics and engineering geophysics. Engineering geologists serve the public directly, mostly through consulting firms in engineering and applied science and state and provincial geological surveys.
The number of North American universities containing specialty programs in engineering geology is somewhat limited. However, universities with such programs, including the Colorado School of Mines (CSM), South Dakota School of Mines, Pennsylvania State University, the University of Missouri Rolla, the University of California-Berkeley and the University of Nevada (UNR) Mackay School of Earth Sciences and Engineering, are conducting notable research in the various aspects of engineering geology. Federal and state geological surveys are also conducting valuable engineering geologic research.
Trends in the practice of engineering geology remain relatively constant and continually focus on identification, assessment and reduction of geologic hazards that impact public health, safety, welfare and property. For example, Jeff Coe at the U.S. Geological Survey has been working on using LIDAR imagery to identify active faults and landslides in the heavily vegetated Puget Sound area of Washington. And also for the Seattle area, Alan Chleborad of USGS has developed a prototype Web-based system for forecasting landslide activity and protocols for issuing warnings of pending landslide activity. In the arena of wildfire research, Paul Santi of CSM and Sue Cannon of USGS are evaluating post-wildfire related debris flow mitigation methods in order to develop decision-support tools for emergency response personnel. This method is being applied to burned areas of southern California following the devastating fires that impacted large areas during the autumn of 2003.
Other trends include seismic hazard evaluation; rock fall mitigation; groundwater remediation; and identification, assessment and mitigation of ground subsidence associated with various geologic processes including ground water withdrawal and karst development. Some other exciting developments include the following: Robert Watters at the UNR MacKay School of Earth Sciences and Engineering is researching volcano hazards associated with edifice (summit) collapse; Jerry Higgins at CSM is developing of a standard testing procedure to determine rock-fall barrier net capacity for U.S. transportation organizations; Steve Bartlett of the University of Utah and co-workers are looking at new probabilistic liquefaction potential and liquefaction induced ground failure maps for the Salt Lake City, Utah, area.
For most practitioners, general awareness of the trends and research is from timely papers in scientific journals such as the Journal of Environmental & Engineering Geology and papers delivered at professional meetings, such as the recent annual meeting of the Association of Engineering Geologists held in Vail, Colo. There, symposia and field trips centered around geophysical tools for engineering geologists, development and geohazards in alpine terrains, evaluation and mitigation of expansive and collapsible soils and rock, hillslope failures, and applications of engineering geology for the evaluation, design, and construction of dams.
Successful practitioners in engineering geology rely on this research to help define their standard of practice and remain at the "cutting edge" of the profession. We are confident that the exemplary research of the past few years will continue as engineering geologists seek to expand their knowledge and reduce geologic impacts on the public and the environment.
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