What is geological engineering?

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It is an interdisciplinary field, in which principles of geoscience are used to solve engineering and environmental problems. It connects geology, civil engineering and other fields (e.g. mining, geography, forestry) to provide a versatile set of skills applicable to a wide range of contemporary problems. The UBC program is an accredited engineering program, so our graduates hold full responsibilities as registered engineering professionals. The qualifications of a geological engineer are similar to those of a civil engineer with geotechnical or environmental specialization. However, our graduates have the advantage of better understanding of geological processes.

Why is Geological Engineering important?

Geological Engineering is the application of the earth sciences to human problems that relate to Earth and earth systems. It is a broad, interdisciplinary field with many specialty areas such as: Geotechnical site investigation for a variety of projects, rock and soil slope stability, Environmental site characterization and planning, Hydrogeology, groundwater studies and engineering. Natural and manmade hazard investigations. Exploration and development of fossil fuel and mineral deposits.

A Bachelor of Science in Geological Engineering - will provide students with a broad background in science and engineering. A thorough foundation in geology and sufficient depth and breadth in the areas of humanities, social science and economics, ensure that they can function and communicate in an effective and responsible way in meeting the needs of society. Students will receive a thorough background in applied geophysics, which will support advanced engineering courses. To maximize the benefits to society, students will receive a balanced curriculum of junior and senior level engineering courses in energy resources, mineral resources, groundwater engineering and geomechanics.

What do geological engineers do?

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They carry out site investigations for dams, plants, roads, railways, housing projects, mines and quarries, pipelines, petroleum production, forestry operations and a variety of other things. They interact with civil engineers to design essential parts of projects. They are responsible for environmental assessments, or clean-up activities where pollution has occurred. They prospect for minerals, building material resources and drinking water. They carry out hazard and risk assessments and mapping for landslides and earthquakes. No wonder that, with this wide variety of applications, our graduates are rarely out of work.

There is a continuous transition between geology and engineering science and that most of us, as applied earth scientists, operate in this transition. There are several related professional disciplines:

  1. Engineering Geology is the application of geology to obtain information and understanding of geological structures, materials and processes, as needed for engineering analysis and design.
  2. Geological Engineering is the application of a combination of geology and engineering science to design, involving rock, soil, groundwater and mineral resources.
  3. Geotechnical Engineering is the application of the science of soil mechanics, rock mechanics, engineering geology and other related disciplines to engineering and environmental projects.
  4. Geo-environmental engineering is the application of a combination of geology and engineering science to the solution of environmental problems.
  5. Environmental geology is the application of geology to obtain information and understanding of geological structures, materials and processes, as needed for the solution of environmental problems.

The above definitions have been paraphrased and simplified by Dr. Oldrich Hungr from a number of existing published definitions and from definitions provided by respondents of a survey. The word "design" is understood as the function of making specific and quantitative plans for construction, corrective actions or policy Design may be concerned with civil or mining projects, as well as environmental protection and hazards management.

Jobs in Geological Engineering

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The field of geological engineering has a wide scope and is relevant almost to all parts of the economy. Most of our graduates work for consulting engineering or environmental firms as specialists. Many are also employed by government agencies such as Ministries of Highways, Environment and Forests and large corporations such as BC Hydro.

Construction

Geological engineering services are in great demand by Canada's construction industry. These geological engineers make sure that the rock and soil foundations for our highrises, bridges and tunnels are secure and stable. Their foundation designs must be able to withstand earthquakes which are likely in cities such as Vancouver and Montreal. Landslides in the mountains and permafrost and muskeg in our northern regions are some of the other problems faced by geological engineers. Often they interact with civil engineers in solving these geotechnical problems.

Environmental Protection

Protection of the environment is one of the greatest challenges facing modern society. As new types of pollution are detected, engineers must develop new solutions to cure the problems. Geological engineers have a crucial role because of their knowledge of how the earth reacts to various engineering processes. With increasing value of land, demand for innovative solutions such as the use of underground space will grow steadily. Highly talented engineers are needed to design and construct excavations and tunnels and to safely dispose of garbage, sewage, and toxic chemicals.

Building and maintenance of roads, railways, airports, transmission lines and pipelines in the challenging terrain characteristic of many parts of Canada require an enormous amount of expert input from geological engineers. These needs are likely to become even stronger in the future, as transportation standards for safety, reliability and capacity increase. For example, recent building of high speed rail lines, in the European countries and Japan represents one of the greatest geological engineering challenges ever faced. In this country, we will be facing similar challenges in the near future.

Energy

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Energy - we have all become aware of Canada's continuing struggle to meet its energy needs. Energy is essential for heating, transportation, manufacturing, and most other aspects of our life. We cannot afford to be complacent because we import as much energy in the form of oil, gas, and coal and uranium as we export. Hundreds of geological engineers are involved in multi-billion dollar exploration programs to find more resources. These include: oil and gas in Western Canada, the Arctic and off the East Coast; uranium in Saskatchewan; tar sands in Alberta; coal in the Rocky Mountains and Maritimes; and geothermal energy in British Columbia. Geological engineers also work as reservoir engineers, pit engineers and mine geologists in the production of these resources. Other important issues connected with energy production are the the safety of facilities in the event of earthquakes and other natural disasters, and risk to the environment, connected with pollution from thermal energy plants and the disposal of waste from nuclear reactors. All of these issues require input from geological engineers.

Water

Water is the most essential mineral commodity used by man. Thus groundwater is an important realm of geological engineering. In many parts of Canada such as the Prairies, the location of industry and the irrigation of farms depends on a reliable and abundant source of good water. This often requires dams for watershed management or drilling to tap underground aquifers. Some geological engineers regulate water supply for hydroelectric dams, or design dikes to protect against flooding, or plan to prevent erosion along our shorelines.

Mining

Metal mining is one of Canada's largest and oldest industries. Our most important source of export dollars comes from iron, nickel, copper, lead, zinc and the many other metallic mineral products. Geological engineers are integrally involved in the search for new ore deposits. They interact with mining engineers to facilitate the efficient extraction of the mineral deposits. Environmental issues connected with mining are also being addressed by geological engineers. Canadian mining industry enjoys leading status in the world-wide and many Canadian specialists work on mining projects overseas. Industrial mineral deposits, such as potash for fertilizer and salt for roads, are essential to our society. Without sand and gravel, crushed stone, brick clay, and cement, we could not construct roads, hydro-electric power dams, skyscrapers, or even plaster our walls. As the present pits and quarries become depleted, many geological engineers discover and develop new sources of industrial minerals near our towns and cities.

Natural hazards management

As population increases and suitable land becomes scarce, difficult decisions need to be made regarding the risks of natural hazards in certain areas. Geological engineers play a key role in quantifying such risks and devising suitable remedial strategies.

Government

Many government agencies, both on Federal and Provincial levels, employ geological engineers to conduct research, and to develop and enforce environmental standards.

Career Services

Do you know where your future lies after you graduate from UBC? The question may seem a little premature, but it isn't. The nature of 'employment' and 'careers' is changing rapidly and the successful graduate will be one who learns how to capitalize on the knowledge and skills gained in a degree program in order to secure the type of employment she or he seeks.

A little-known branch of UBC's Student Services is called Career Services. Housed in Brock Hall, Career Services staff can help you prepare for a career after you graduate from UBC. They offer workshops on searching for jobs and on the skills needed to get interviews and make them successful. Students also get access to web-based career resources and on-campus visits by potential employers. Unfortunately, many students make their first contact with Career Services in their last term of fourth year and that's much too late. Don't be one of them!

Geological Engineering
Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences
Earth Sciences Building
2020 - 2027 Main Mall
Telephone: 604-822-2449
Visit the program website.

Advising and Program Approval

You don't normally need to consult an advisor before registering. However, advisers are available in both the Engineering Student Services Office and departmental / program offices.

First year engineering students: please contact the Engineering Student Services office in CEME 2053 at 604-822-6556.

See the advisor list for all engineering or Co-op program phone, email and mail contacts.