Geotechnical engineers analyze, in the field and in the laboratory, the properties of soils and rock that support and affect the behaviour of structures, pavement and underground facilities. They evaluate potential settlement of buildings, stability of slopes and fills, and analyze landslides, groundwater seepage and the effects of earthquakes. Geotechnical engineers work with structural engineers to design the construction of dams, foundations of buildings and tunnels.

Students who study geotechnical and geoenvironmental engineering will become familiar with the following topics:

Large earth structures and their foundations. The largest retaining structures in the world contain the mine tailings from the Alberta oil sands. Researchers at the Geotechnical Centre provides innovative research and technologies for the oil sands industry. The Centre also initiated and managed the groundbreaking Canadian Liquefaction Experiment (CANLEX) Project to evaluate the phenomena of liquefaction of sands. 

Cold regions and permafrost engineering. Infrastructure, pipelines and mines in the Arctic are adversely affected by slope creep and instability, frost heave and thaw settlement. The Centre’s research has led to a comprehensive understanding of these mechanisms and resulted in innovative engineering solutions.

Mine waste technology. The sustainable operation of existing oil sands mines and reclamation of disturbed lands hinges on the successful demonstration of new tailings management technology. The Centre has won two provincial ASTech Oil Sands Research Awards for its work in this area and has been awarded a NSERC/COSIA Industrial Research Chair in Oil Sands Tailings Geotechnique.

Risk management in resource engineering and natural hazards. Group members are specialists in the formal treatment of risk management and led the work on landslides with the 1990-2000 United Nations International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction. Since 2003, the Railway Ground Hazards Research Program has led innovative work focused on reducing and preventing high risk, low occurrence ground hazards along the Canadian Cordillera.

Students will be also be exposed to geological disposal of wastes, including greenhouse gas sequestration; assessment and remediation of contaminated sites; characterization of subsurface deposits and earth structures; ground improvement; and modelling of excavations, landslides and pipeline hydrotransport.