From the Editor

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 areas.

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.

Boston’s “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 earthquake’s 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 Bartlett’s 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 humankind’s 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 month’s stories illustrate, the course of human events is driving these fields clostogether.

In the meantime, don’t forget to be active during the annual Earth Science week, Oct. 13-19. Visit for details.

Believe your compass,

Samuel S. Adams
Geotimes Editor-in-Chief

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