What Challenges Does it Hold for Geotechnical Engineers


A report released in March, 2013 based on reviews by 13 governmental agencies, puts a dire spin on the possible impact of climate change on America’s infrastructure. The report, which was generated in support of the National Climate Assessment that is due to be formally released by the U.S. Global Change Research Program in April, 2013, found that the nation’s infrastructure, including roads, bridges, gas pipelines and power plants is at risk because of the impact of climate change.

Geotechnical Engineering Work
Geotechnical Engineering Work

The report concludes that the periods of drought, storms and flooding caused by climate change can potentially result in what it calls “cascading system failures,” unless changes are made to lessen the impact of those events.

Scientists analyzing the information in the report looked to extreme weather events in the past in reaching some of their conclusions. They warn that severe storms of an equal or greater magnitude of Hurricane Katrina could wipe out communications capabilities, trigger blackouts that shut off the power to sewage and wastewater treatment facilities, or damage bridges and highways.

What Does this Mean for Geotechnical and Civil Engineers?

In 2012 the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) released a policy statement in which it stated, “Climate change could pose a potentially serious impact on worldwide water resources, energy production and use, agriculture, forestry, coastal development and resources, flood control and public infrastructure.” Among the examples cited by the document are:

Civil Engineering Lab
Civil Engineering Lab

*Changes in permafrost conditions that could make it necessary to retrofit existing foundations and make changes in their design.

*Erratic ocean levels that could pose threats to coastal areas and ports.

*Extreme storms that would make it necessary to make changes in systems that have been designed to protect coastal areas, and

*Floods and droughts that would cause a variance in hydrological patterns that might make it necessary to make changes to systems currently in place to provide flood control and protection of the infrastructure to ensure public safety.

The policy statement by the ASCE included the following summary:

Civil engineers are responsible for design and maintenance of infrastructure projects that facilitate economic development and protect human health, welfare and the environment. Climate change may result in significant impacts to this infrastructure. Civil engineers and government policy makers must work together to anticipate and plan for these impacts. ASCE, its members, leaders, and resources are ready to develop and implement prudent policies as part of their mission to serve the public good.”

Geotechnical Engineers
Geotechnical Engineers

For more information about the role of geotechnical engineers in assisting you to plan and execute your current or future projects, contact Universal Engineering Sciences, Inc. (Universal) at 888-988-7580 (toll-free).

In business since 1965 and with 18 offices in Florida, Georgia and Alabama, Universal provides a wide range of engineering services, including Building Code Compliance Inspection and Plan Review, Construction Materials Testing and Inspection, Contract Drilling, Environmental Sciences, Geotechnical & Geophysical Engineering, Phase I & II Assessments, Threshold Inspection and Transportation Industry Services.