Soil-environment interactions in geotechnical engineering

Rankine Lecture 2007

The range of problems that geotechnical engineers must face is increasing in scope and complexity. Some examples are the collapse of unsaturated soils, foundations on expansive clays, tunnelling in sulphate bearing materials, control of subsidence due to oil or gas extraction, and containment of toxic or hazardous waste. In addition, potential climate change may pose new problems in areas such as slope stability or permafrost thawing as well as placing new emphasis on topics such as radioactive waste disposal or deep CO2 sequestration. Classical saturated Soil Mechanics is often insufficient to provide the understanding and tools to tackle these issues effectively.

In the lecture, a number of developments incorporating the effects of new phenomena and new variables on the behaviour of soils will be described and discussed. Recent developments in Unsaturated Soil Mechanics will be reviewed first. It will be shown that they provide a consistent framework for understanding the engineering behaviour of unsaturated soils and the effects of suction and moisture changes. Building on those developments, soil behaviour is further explored by considering the effect of high and low temperatures as well as of chemical variables. The resulting generalised view of soil behaviour is then applied in the analysis of field situations.

The lecture will present documented case histories that demonstrate the relevance and implications of the developments described for geotechnical engineering practice.

About the speaker

Prof Antonio Gens

Professor Antonio Gens Technical University of Catalonia, Barcelona, Spain

Professor Gens received his PhD from Imperial College, University of London. After a period working in industry, he joined the faculty of the Technical University of Catalonia (UPC) in Barcelona where he became Professor of Geotechnical Engineering in 1988. From 1999 to 2006, he served as Head of the Department of Geotechnical Engineering and Geosciences and he was a member of the Governing Council of the University from 2002 to 2006. His research interests lie in the fields of unsaturated soils, numerical analysis of geotechnical problems and geoenviromental engineering. He has provided advice on a large number of projects involving deep excavations, foundations, tunnels, breakwaters, dams and other geotechnical structures. He has served in a number of ISSMGE’s Technical Committees and he is a core member of TC-5 on Environmental Geotechnics. In 1998 he delivered the BGS Touring Lecture and in 2000 the 8th Prague Geotechnical Lecture. In 2005 he became a member of the Royal Academy of Doctors in Spain. He is the recipient of the Chandra Desai Medal (International Association for Computer Methods and Advances in Geomechanics), the Case History Award (American Rock Mechanics Association) and the Telford Medal (ICE).

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