Geotechnical engineering

From a scientific perspective, geotechnical engineering largely involves defining the soil's strength and deformation properties. Clay, silt, sand, rock and snow are important materials in geotechnics. Geotechnical engineering includes specialist fields such as soil and rock mechanics, geophysics, hydrogeology and associated disciplines such as geology. Geotechnical engineering and engineering geology are a branch of civil engineering.

The specialism involves using scientific methods and principles of engineering to collect and interpret the physical properties of the ground for use in building and construction. Its practical application, e.g. foundation engineering, has come to require a scientific approach.  The term geotechnics is currently used to describe both the theoretical and practical application of the discipline.

NGI and geotechnical consulting

Geotechnics is applied when planning infrastructure such as roads and tunnels as well as buildings and other constructions onshore and offshore. The discipline also involves performing numerical calculations, analysing the stability of slopes and cliffs, and assessing load-bearing capacity, settlement and deformation in man-made structures.

Research and development in geotechnical engineering is carried out to improve and further refine equipment and methods for carrying out ground surveys, 

  • equipment and methods for surveying and testing sediment and rock samples in a laboratory,
  • methods for calculating and analysing the behaviour and bearing capacity of soil and rock when planning structures (buildings, bridges, dams etc.), offshore installations, tunnels and subterranean spaces, roads, railways etc.,
  • methods for measuring, instrumenting and subsequently documenting whether buildings and other structures behave the way they were designed to.

NGI and geotechnical research and development

NGI conducts research and development in all of the fields mentioned above. NGI receives an annual grant for this research from the Research Council of Norway. NGI's geotechnical expertise is used to assist both the authorities and private enterprise in the following markets:

  • Offshore energy
  • Natural hazards 
  • Building, construction and transport 
  • Environmental technology 

The science of geotechnical engineering was primarily developed by the Austrian Karl Terzaghi in the early 20th century. He was a professor at the Vienna University of Technology and later at Harvard University. Before his death in 1963 he bequeathed all his technical and scientific material to NGI. His works are held by the Terzaghi Library at NGI, which opened in 1967.

Studying geotechnical engineering

Education in geotechnical engineering is offered as master degree specialization within civil engineering. In Norway most geotechnical engineers gain their qualifications at the Geotechnical engineering group at NTNU. The Department of Geosciences at the University of Oslo also offers courses in geotechnical engineering.