25 Aug 2016

Surveying Meant to Be Integral Part of Geotechnical Engineering

Both scientists and practitioners have been discussing the essence, relevance and fit of geotechnical surveying for Russia for years. The followers of engineering geology schools believe that geotechnical engineering is a part of design activities and have nothing to do with engineering surveys. On the contrary, the foundation analysis experts argue that geotechnical engineering is the basis, the starting point of all operations, including geological engineering surveys. Anyway, time will tell on that. However, if geological engineers continue focusing on old approaches and remain unable to provide analysts with adequate data, there will be evidently less demand for such surveys.

ALEXANDER ROSTOVTSEV, a leading researcher in the Soil Exploration Methodology Laboratory of the Gersevanov Research Institute of Bases and Underground Structures (NIIOSP) of JSC Research Center of Construction, spoke on the place and role of geological and geotechnical engineering surveys in the modern construction process during his interview with independent e-journal GeoInfo.

Eds.: Debates on the role of geotechnical engineering surveys have gained momentum recently. What is the reason for that and what is this going to lead to?

Mr. Rostovtsev: Geotechnical engineering surveys were defined in the draft of SP 47.13330-2012, which triggered mostly negative reaction of both surveyors and substructure designers. A number of experts covered this aspect in their publications, including R.S. Ziangirov, A.D. Potapov, A.A. Svertilov, D.Yu. Zdobin, just to name a few. A revised version of this Code is under development. However, the concerns raised earlier have never been addressed.

Let’s make a retrospective journey. Russian Government Decree No. 20 of 2006 provided for general and specific types of engineering surveys, with geotechnical engineering surveys and geotechnical studies being categorized into the specific group.

The Ministry of Regional Development issued Order No. 624 in 2009 to specify the scope of activities carried out within the framework of geological engineering and geotechnical engineering surveys.

Finally, SP 47.13330-2012 introduced such terms as “geotechnical engineering surveys” and “geotechnical engineering studies” in 2012.

According to SP 47.13330-2012, geological engineering surveys are required for the Land-Use Planning Document Development and Project stages, while geotechnical engineering surveys are implemented in the course of foundation design, i.e. in the Design Documentation phase.

The types of relevant researches were categorized accordingly. Thus, the geological engineering studies included the analysis of geological engineering conditions and processes as well as laboratory-based evaluation of soil properties.

All field methods and specific analyses of soil characteristics were included in the group of geotechnical engineering surveys.

This classification obviously fails to meet the design requirements. It is hardly possible to choose the best foundation without such field studies as sounding tests, plate tests, etc.

To smooth over these differences, a special provision was added to SP 47.13330-2012 enabling to carry out these types of studies in parallel.

Eds.: What a mess-up! Was it reasonable to distinguish geotechnical surveys then?

Mr. Rostovtsev: The answer lies in the terminology. The term “geological engineering surveys” accepted in Russia incorporates such areas of activity as the study of soil conditions, processes and properties for construction purposes. As a matter of fact, this is an applied branch of engineering geology dealing with the outer crust of the Earth.

The Western countries use a more general term, “geotechnical studies” or “geotechnical engineering”, which, in addition to engineering surveys, includes substructure design and foundation stability and deformation calculations, earthworks technology development and construction monitoring.

Geological engineering surveys are virtually a part of geotechnical engineering.

Eds.: And what about the problem of insufficient interaction between surveyors and designers that has been much talked of recently?

Mr. Rostovtsev: Indeed, denomination is not the point. Russia always had surveying and design institutions that do not cooperate enough at the geotechnical design stage. It is often the case that the whole range of operations is carried out under the assignment although the first findings require adjustments.

As for Eurocode 7, geotechnical design and surveying go hand in hand, which makes it possible to change the structure of operations promptly on the basis of findings.

Lack of regulatory framework and adequately trained staff impedes the development of such an approach in Russia. The graduates of geological universities are not competent enough in soil mechanics and foundation engineering, while the graduates of construction education institutions have poor skills in the field of engineering geology, including soil science, geodynamics and regional engineering geology.

There is a need in new specialists, geotechnical engineers, who enjoy extensive expertise in both geology and design.

Eds.: Are these staffing needs addressed in the numerous occupational standards drafted by various organizations?

Mr. Rostovtsev: For example, there is a draft occupational standard for such specialists developed by the Russian Society for Soil Mechanics, Geotechnics and Foundation Engineering, the Research Institute of Foundations and Underground Structures (JSC Research Center of Construction) and a number of other organizations. It is put out for public consultation now. According to this document, a geotechnical engineer shall have knowledge of both geotechnical design and geological engineering surveying.

It is definitely hard to imagine how a competent expert in geotechnical design and engineering geology can be trained. Such an expert will be primarily a designer but with profound knowledge of geology.

Obviously, the education system shall also be reformed. Surveyors of Saint Petersburg and the Northwest, a self-regulating organization, in cooperation with the leading sector universities of Saint Petersburg are developing a new occupational standard for geological engineers. Hopefully, they will require deeper knowledge of soil mechanics and foundation design.

Eds.: How can adoption of occupational standards impact the sector?

Mr. Rostovtsev: Our professional community has been discussing further sector development for years. There are two possible ways: the first one is geology formalization aimed mostly at identification of required design parameters and the other one is a domestic tradition of engineering geology with deeper analysis of development and current status of foundation soil.

I believe the truth is always somewhere in between. I suggest creating our own geotechnical engineering school to synthesize the best local and international practices.

To achieve this, we need to integrate geological and geotechnical engineering surveys into a single term, “geotechnical surveying”, and mirror this in the updated version of SP 47.13330-2012 Engineering Surveys for Construction Purposes. General Terms and Conditions and in other regulations to be drafted by the National Association of Surveyors and Designers (NOPRIZ).

The NOPRIZ Engineering Surveying Committee shall initiate the development of new code of practice for geotechnical studies on the model of Eurocode 7.

Independent e-journal Geoinfo.ru