This issue of Geotimes may strike you first as an odd assortment of topics,
with key phrases such as urban tunneling, power canal failure, urban subsidence,
lava flow response and urban shake maps. You will detect an urban
leaning and that was by design: an issue devoted to the geologic issues of urban
Less by design is a second theme that rumbles through each of these stories, namely
the commingling of geoscience and engineering. Just what are the relations between
these two? Are they bosom buddies, fellow travelers or strange bedfellows? Follow
along and see where the stories lead.
Bostons Big Dig is a colossal tale by any yardstick, as author
Brad Miller describes for us. Although the scale may seldom be matched, the subterranean
reconfiguration of urban areas will only increase as population continues to grow
and flock to urban areas. So now that we agree on that, how will our approach
to urban planning and subsurface site characterization evolve? What is the role
of geology, of engineering and specifically of geological engineering? Our features
answers some of these questions by taking a look at the history of geotechnical
engineering in Boston.
In our second feature, Geotimes staff writer Lisa Pinsker weaves an engaging
tale of where the U. S. seismological community has moved since the problematic
days of earthquake prediction. As Pinsker shows us, the community has moved toward
early earthquake characterization, urban shake intensity projections
and impact scenarios. The evolving Advanced National Seismic System (ANSS) offers
the real prospect of warning kids in school to dive under their desks seconds
before a detected earthquakes shock waves arrive. As Pinsker notes, recent
programs include expanding earthquake monitoring to buildings by bringing
together seismologists and engineers, who traditionally have worked separately.
Where else might engineers and geoscientists be working separately,
where greater collaboration might produce better outcomes?
Engineering geology (geological engineering, geotechnical engineering, etc.) has
covered many of these geoscience-engineering boundaries and has overlaped for
decades with considerable success. Recent and current events suggest, however,
that the overlaps will increasingly become central to our life on Earth, such
that the collaboration and engagement of geoscience and engineering will need
to be elevated to a higher level of priority in academe, in consulting,
in government agencies and in the minds of practitioners.
Kobe, Japan, is also expanding its earthquake monitoring system following the
devastating quake that took more than 6,000 lives in 1995. In our third feature,
a series of stories about cities facing unique urban geology issues, Pinsker reports
that the goal is similar to that in the United States, except that Japan
has so many instruments that interpolation is unnecessary.
In this series, the interplay of geoscience and engineering is obvious in Kristina
Bartletts account of subsidence induced by aquifer depletion in Las Vegas,
Nev. Also in this feature, Christina Reed relates stories of the recent volcanic
eruption in Goma, the Democratic Republic of the Congo; and Greg Peterson describes
landslide problems in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Finally, in our Comments column this month Ward Chesworth gives us his provocative
take on sustainability and what the end of human history might look
like. He invokes quotes from Harrison Brown, one of our foremost geochemists,
and posits that science has defined humankinds conditions and options from
which we must now engineer some sort of global sustainability. He
too seems perplexed by sustainable development, which to me, at least
in terms of earth resource exploitation, seems at best an oxymoron.
Together the articles in this issue provide a timely glance at the relations between
geoscience and engineering ( in all its forms and families). Science and engineering
are different. They have different purposes, require different skills, and attract
different types of people with different motivations (the Myers-Briggs personality
profiles prove that!). The application of earth science to engineered structures
is not the same as the collection and interpretation geoscience data. Yet, as
this months stories illustrate, the course of human events is driving these
In the meantime, dont forget to be active during the annual Earth Science
week, Oct. 13-19. Visit www.earthscienceworld.org
Believe your compass,
Samuel S. Adams