Job Role: Geotechnical Engineer

By Tabitha Mishra
Published: June 30, 2020 | Last updated: July 5, 2023
Key Takeaways

A geotechnical engineer is a key player on a trenchless construction site if you want to ensure the project goes according to plan.

Geotechnical engineers are in great demand in the field of trenchless technology and play a very crucial role in any trenchless project. They are responsible for extensively investigating and providing essential information in the form of a geotechnical investigation report that helps begin the process of planning a project.

Without a geotechnical engineer, proceeding with a trenchless project is essentially drilling in the dark.

All kinds of problems can arise when drilling blind including cross-boring and encountering strata for which the contractor is not prepared. (Read: Cross-Boring Can Be Deadly: Avoid Tragedy with These Important Work Practices.) This can lead to heavy financial losses for the contractor and even result in damage to property and injury to workers.

Only a licensed geotechnical engineer should perform a geotechnical investigation for a trenchless project. This will ensure that accurate information is made available and that the right decisions are made. Here we will take a look at the job role of a geotechnical engineer.

A Geotechnical Engineer's Job Role

A geotechnical engineer is responsible for different activities in a trenchless project. While the job role is varied and exciting, it is also very extensive and demanding. Other than their expertise in soil and rock investigation, they are also expected to have a working knowledge of different engineering fields such as material science, structural engineering, petroleum engineering, or ocean engineering.

Changing technology is helping to develop advanced equipment to make geotechnical investigations more thorough and reliable. Geotechnical engineers need to stay updated with the latest developments in their field to create better geotechnical reports which help contractors make the most of their time and project budget. (Read: How These Top Geotechnical Investigation Trends Are Shaping the Future of Trenchless Technology.)

Geotechnical engineers are expected to:

  • Perform geotechnical analysis to study and understand the condition of the site under investigation.
  • Plan a thorough geotechnical investigation of the site using direct and indirect methods of site investigation.
  • Analyze the findings obtained from the site investigation including desk study and laboratory analysis of soil and rock samples.
  • Interpret geological information to evaluate subsurface conditions for design feasibility.
  • Perform hydraulic fracture and inadvertent return analysis.
  • Highlight difficult and tricky subsurface conditions to provide recommendations for risk mitigation for the duration of the project.
  • Scheduling and risk management for all work related to geotechnical initiatives.
  • Determine the schedule and cost of investigations.
  • Monitor and report daily activities.
  • Conduct field and lab tests on a regular basis to detect changes in geology that may not have been recorded in the initial report.
  • Provide maintenance for the field test equipment.
  • Data management, quality control of geological data, planning, resource forecasting, cost estimating, scheduling and risk management for all geological and geotechnical initiatives.
  • Keep themselves up-to-date on new technology and equipment, updated safety regulations and applicable environmental laws.

Equipment in a Geotechnical Engineer's Tool Box

Geotechnical engineers are trained to work with a variety of equipment depending on the site conditions. A trenchless construction project includes survey tools for the survey of lands such as transits, laser theodolites, total station, and other equipment to measure angles and distances.

They also include equipment for ground investigation such as ground-penetrating radar (GPR), a global positioning system (GPS), drilling rigs to retrieve core samples, a reverse circulation drilling rig, dynamic probing set, soil extensometers, vane shear test equipment, a resistivity meter, and a seismograph. (Read: Why a Detailed Geotechnical Report Means Success for Your Trenchless Project.)

A geotechnical engineer’s lab equipment includes (but is not limited to):

  • Soil cone penetrometer
  • Plastic limit and shrinkage limit set
  • Mud balance
  • Grain size analyzer
  • Proctor compaction test apparatus
  • Core cutter
  • Permeability constant head test
  • Permeability falling head test
  • Relative density test
  • Consolidation apparatus
  • Direct shear test apparatus
  • California bearing ratio (CBR) apparatus
  • Unconfined compression tester
  • Triaxial shear test apparatus
  • Static cone penetrometer
  • Split spoon sampler
  • Plate bearing test
  • Proctor hammer

What Are the Job Risks?

Geotechnical engineers are required to spend a lot of their time in the field and in laboratories. They have to work in all kinds of weather conditions and all types of terrains.

This brings in a certain amount of risk to the profession as they will have to deal with geological hazards such as landslides, detrimental effects of soil erosion, occasional earthquakes and other risks.

What are the Qualifications to Become a Geotechnical Engineer?

A bachelor’s degree is necessary to begin a career in this field. Relevant subjects of study include engineering geology, geophysics, geotechnology, and mineral or mining engineering. Those who have completed a degree in civil engineering can enter the field by registering with relevant institutions.

Some employers prefer postgraduate qualifications, such as a Masters (MSc) degree in soil or rock mechanics, geotechnical engineering, engineering geology, hydrogeology, or foundation engineering.

Some professional societies and organizations that geotechnical engineers can enroll with are International Society for Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering, American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Geo Institute, and Academy of Geoprofessionals.

What Can Geotechnical Engineers Expect in the Job?

  • Long durations of staying away from home for the duration of a project.
  • Extensive and extended travel to projects in different locations within the country and abroad.
  • Continuous monitoring of the site for potential geological hazards that can risk the project.
  • Coordinating with the different professional hierarchies within the project scope to keep the flow of work smooth and continuous.
  • Responsibility for the safety of people and equipment that they will be handling for the project.
  • High level of financial responsibility as decisions taken and recommendations given will directly impact project cost.
  • Great learning and career growth opportunities as there will be extensive interaction with several types of professionals and situations.

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Written by Tabitha Mishra | Civil Engineer, Technical Content Writer

Tabitha Mishra

Tabitha has a Bachelors Degree in Civil Engineering from Mumbai University, India, and is currently freelancing as a technical content writer. Prior to writing, she has worked as a site engineer and site manager for various building construction, building rehabilitation, and real estate evaluation projects.

Tabitha is also certified as a Primavera project management professional and is well versed with Auto CAD. In her spare time, she does private consultation for small-sized home builders and assists with plans and permissions.

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