The area of geotechnical services encompasses several different functions, which all involve the effect of earth and soils on construction projects. Geotechnical laboratories may analyze soil samples at a proposed construction site to help assess whether the ground can support the needed amount of weight in a given location. Other types of inspections may also be conducted on a site to estimate the likelihood of potential damage from natural disasters such as earthquakes or landslides. Engineers in this field can be part of a construction team and are often responsible for designing building foundations, retaining walls, and other structures that help to provide stability. Almost any engineering project that involves construction on the ground may require geotechnical services.
The majority of engineering construction projects begin with a thorough analysis of the proposed building site, which includes a soil assessment. Geotechnical services professionals often run laboratories that conduct detailed analyses of the earth in the subject location to provide a list of all soil components and their proportions. The research will also have information on other soil characteristics, such as whether it is rocky, holds a lot of moisture, or is very compacted. Engineers use these data to determine the parameters of the earth, such as its weight capacity, permeability, and shear strength. They will design construction plans for the proposed building that accounts for these issues.
Along with soil analyses, the discipline of geotechnical services also includes assessments of a given area to determine the potential for natural disasters. Engineers are able to estimate the likelihood and severity of these problems using historical data as well as an examination of the existing conditions. Construction in areas that are likely to experience earthquakes or landslides, for example, will require building designs that are strong enough to withstand them. Many places also have zoning laws that require structures to meet minimum requirements for stability and safety in the event of an earthquake.
Geotechnical engineers also participate in the construction phase of a project. They may be responsible for specifying building materials that are most appropriate for a site, but also fit within the cost parameters of a job. Their expertise may also be needed to determine the proper type of foundation for a building, whether it should be deep or shallow and what materials should be used to provide the best stability and water resistance. Geotechnical services can also include building retaining walls and determining the degree of slope stability to avoid landslides and other problems that can arise during construction.