3 Of The Scariest Geotechnical Engineering Challenges


Geotechnical engineering services help people in numerous industries, including construction, resource extraction, and public works. In these industries, the costs of failure can run into millions or even billions of dollars. Consequently, it's important to study and address every possible challenge that might emerge on a site. Some of those geoengineering challenges can be quite scary, and here are three that keep professionals in the business up at night. 

Liquefying Soil

Under the right conditions, some types of soils can behave like a liquid. Notably, this can happen even if there is little to no water present in the soil. The scariest scenarios often involve heavy pressure waves and vibrations from earthquakes that can cause the soil to act like a liquid for several minutes. While this happens, the soil loses most of its structural support capacity, essentially rendering everything between it and the bedrock below useless for holding up buildings and infrastructure. Worse, the pressure of the structure standing on the soil can amplify the effect.

Geotechnical engineers obsess about taking samples and running tests for exactly this reason. You want to know how the soil will act under such pressures before you erect a structure on it.


The interaction of water and chemical processes in the soil and even in the bedrock can cause solid ground to disappear. Usually, this leads to hollowing out the rock. As this happens, the rocks develop cavities, not unlike the ones that dentists worry about with people's teeth. Left unaddressed, these cavitations will have the same outcome. The rock will snap like a rotten tooth, but with potentially thousands or even millions of tons of material collapsing.

Fortunately, cavitations are often fixable. Geotechnical engineering teams can determine if they're present or likely to develop. They can then test the rocks to determine what interactions are happening. Finally, they can prescribe a solution, such as applying chemicals to the ground to change the interaction or compacting the soil to make the cavitations more solid.


The idea that you don't know what you don't know is central to geotechnical engineering. Until you conduct surveys, take samples, run simulations, and perform scale tests, it's hard to say for sure what could go wrong. Even at locations where people have been building for decades or centuries, there may be undiscovered problems lurking in the ground. Geotechnical engineering services providers can help people, businesses, and governments detect and remediate problems to reduce the risk to buildings and infrastructure.


28 October 2022

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