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Geological and Geotechnical Engineering in the New Millennium: Opportunities for Research and Technological Innovation Summary The field of geoengineering is at a crossroads where the path to high-tech solutions meets the path to expanding applications of geotechnology. In this report, the term “geoengineering” includes all types of engineering that deal with Earth materials, such as geotechnical engineering, geological engineering, hydrological engineering, and Earth-related parts of petroleum engineering and mining engineering. The rapid expansion of nanotechnology, biotechnology, and information technology begs the question of how these new approaches might come to play in developing better solutions for geotechnological problems. This report presents a vision for the future of geotechnology aimed at National Science Foundation (NSF) program managers, the geological and geotechnical engineering community as a whole, and other interested parties, including Congress, federal and state agencies, industry, academia, and other stakeholders in geoengineering research. Some of the ideas may be close to reality whereas others may turn out to be elusive, but they all present possibilities to strive for and potential goals for the future. Geoengineers are poised to expand their roles and lead in finding solutions for modern Earth systems problems, such as global change,1 emissions-free energy supply, global water supply, and urban systems. 1 By global change we refer to all of the anthropogenically induced changes in Earth’s environment, including notably climate change induced by energy use
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Geological and Geotechnical Engineering in the New Millennium: Opportunities for Research and Technological Innovation The type and scope of geotechnical problems are changing, and yet geotechnologists are for the most part not prepared for these changes. The world now faces challenges in Earth systems where engineering problems meet societal and environmental issues. For example, sustainable development of the built environment and natural resources is a new societal imperative for the twenty-first century (NRC, 1999). Sustainable development will require a new understanding and management of the behavior of Earth materials from the nanoscale to the macro- and even global scale and link the engineering management of Earth processes with economic and environmental goals. An expansion of the traditional role for geoengineers will be geoengineering for Earth systems, which will include efforts to integrate social, environmental, and scientific issues into engineering solutions for Earth systems problems. This expanded scope will require new types and quantities of data, benchmarking, and new efforts in modeling. Some of the critical problems to be addressed by geoengineering for Earth systems will include dealing with the legacy and future of energy use, developing geotechnology that is environmentally responsible and economically beneficial—especially for the developing world—holistic infrastructure solutions for urban environments, and managing the emerging critical issues of global change. Many different types of problems and projects, ranging from the microscale to the global scale, draw on the geosciences and geotechnology for solutions and effective implementation. This report focuses on the necessary technology and science to enable problem identification and solving, robust and cost-effective designs, efficient and safe construction, assurance of long-term serviceability, protection from natural hazards, and continuing respect for the environment. These tasks are the essence of modern geoengineering. The Geotechnical and Geohazards Systems Program of the National Science Foundation asked the National Research Council’s Committee patterns and the associated changes in water supplies, the occurrence of and our susceptibility to natural disasters, sea level rise, weather patterns, as well as the changes induced by urbanization, agriculture, lumbering, industrial contamination, and mining.
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Geological and Geotechnical Engineering in the New Millennium: Opportunities for Research and Technological Innovation on Geological and Geotechnical Engineering in the New Millennium: Opportunities for Research and Technological Innovation to conduct a study to provide advice on future research directions and opportunities in geological and geotechnical engineering, concentrating on techniques for characterizing, stabilizing, and monitoring the subsurface. The committee addressed the following in its statement of task: Updated the report Geotechnology: Its Impact on Economic Growth, the Environment, and National Security (NRC, 1989) by assessing major gaps in the current states of knowledge and practice in the field of geoengineering. Areas included, but were not limited to, research capabilities and needs, practice and fundamental problems facing it, culture, and workforce. Provided a vision for the field of geoengineering. What societal needs can geoengineering help meet? Examples include infrastructure, homeland security, urban sprawl, traffic congestion, and environmental degradation. What new directions would improve geoengineering in ways that will better help meet these needs? Explored ways for achieving this vision and recommended implementation strategies. What new and emerging technologies are needed, including biotechnology, microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), nanotechnology, cyber infrastructure, and others? What workforce changes are needed? What opportunities are there for interdisciplinary collaboration? What barriers and constraints are there to achieving this vision? This report provides a vision for the field of geotechnology. It looks at opportunities that should be seized now to address future needs. It
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Geological and Geotechnical Engineering in the New Millennium: Opportunities for Research and Technological Innovation explores ways to make geoengineering more expansive in both scope and approach. The problems of today and tomorrow will need to be solved with a wider variety of tools and scientific information than is currently employed, including Earth sciences, biological sciences, nanotechnology, information technology, and MEMS. The problems geoengineers solve are part of complex human, geological, and biological systems. We need to recognize and address the systems context for geoengineering in order to construct appropriate solutions to problems that are affected by society, economics, geology, and biology. We especially see a need for geoengineering in the emerging field of geoengineering for Earth systems in an attempt to manage and sustain a habitable and beneficial environment on Earth. The goal of geoengineering research and technology innovation in both the short and long term should be to provide the knowledge and understanding that will enable problem solving and projects to be done with more certainty, faster, cheaper, better, and with proper respect for sustainability and environmental protection. To address these issues, the committee developed three categories of findings and recommendations. The first category covers knowledge gaps identified in the 1989 report Geotechnology: Its Impact on Economic Growth, the Environment, and National Security (NRC, 1989), gaps not yet satisfactorily resolved by the geoengineering community. This section addresses how new tools and technologies can be used to fill in these knowledge gaps and tackle new applications in geoengineering. The second category is a compelling new imperative for geoengineering for Earth systems, a systems engineering approach for increasingly complex social, environmental, and economic factors that lead to sustainable development of our infrastructure and resources. The third category relates to changes in interdisciplinary research and education necessary to ensure that a diverse workforce is able to apply new tools and technologies to new applications of geoengineering. Primarily, the committee’s findings and recommendations are directed to the National Science Foundation, but suggestions for other agencies, education, and practice are made as well.
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Geological and Geotechnical Engineering in the New Millennium: Opportunities for Research and Technological Innovation KNOWLEDGE GAPS AND NEW TOOLS In 1989, the role of geoengineering in addressing societal needs was documented by the Geotechnical Board of the National Research Council in Geotechnology: Its Impact on Economic Growth, the Environment, and National Security (NRC, 1989). Societal needs addressed by geotechnology were grouped into seven broad national issues: waste management, infrastructure development and rehabilitation, construction efficiency and innovation, national security, resource discovery and recovery, mitigation of natural hazards, and frontier exploration and development. For each of these seven issues, the 1989 report identified critical needs and recommended actions for advancing the role of geoengineering. Table 2.1 summarizes these critical needs and recommended actions. Finding The committee finds that significant knowledge gaps continue to challenge the practice of geoengineering, especially the ability to characterize the subsurface; account for time effects; understand biogeochemical processes in soils and rocks; stabilize soils and rocks; use enhanced computing, information, and communication technologies; and understand geomaterials in extreme environments. (See Chapter 2 for the full list of knowledge gaps.) The committee is concerned that resources for investigator-initiated research at the National Science Foundation are diminishing and believes that the balance between investigator-initiated research and directed research is unbalanced toward directed research.
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Geological and Geotechnical Engineering in the New Millennium: Opportunities for Research and Technological Innovation Geoengineering is burdened by a lack of adequate characterization of the geomedia and paucity of necessary information, which contributes to some extent to the unavoidable uncertainty in design. We are still unable to translate our fundamental understanding of the physics and chemistry of soils and rocks and the microscale behavior of particulate systems in ways that enable us to quantify the engineering properties and behavior needed for engineering analysis of materials at the macroscale. Given these problems, paradigms for dealing with the resulting uncertainty are poorly understood and even more poorly practiced. There is a need for (1) improved characterization technology; (2) improved quantification of the uncertainties associated with characterization; and (3) improved methods for assessing the potential impacts of these uncertainties on engineering decisions requiring engineering judgment (i.e., on risk analysis for engineering decision making). Recommendation The National Science Foundation should continue to direct funding into the fundamental knowledge gaps and needs in geoengineering. restore the balance between investigator-initiated research and directed research, and should allocate resources to increase the success rate for unsolicited proposals in geoengineering (and civil and mechanical systems) to a level commensurate with other programs in the engineering directorate. Finding The committee sees tremendous opportunities for advancing geoengineering through interaction with other disciplines, especially in the areas of biotechnology, nanotechnology, MEMS and microsensors, geosensing, information technology, cyberinfrastructure, and multispatial and multitemporal geographical data modeling, analysis, and visualization.
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Geological and Geotechnical Engineering in the New Millennium: Opportunities for Research and Technological Innovation Pilot projects in vertical integration of research between multiple disciplines—perhaps including industry, multiple government agencies, and multiple universities—should be explored as alternatives to more traditional interdisciplinary proposals. New technology—already available or under development—promises exciting new possibilities for geoengineering. Some applications of these new technologies that the committee found of particular interest use microbes to stabilize or remediate soils, nanotechnology to modify the behavior of clay, nanosensors and MEMS to characterize and monitor the behavior of geomaterials and geosystems, remote sensing and noninvasive ground-based sensing techniques, and next-generation geologic data models to bridge sensing, computation, and real-time simulation of behavior for adaptive management purposes and geophysics for urban infrastructure detection. Some of these new technologies likely will have major impacts on geoengineering, such as revolutionizing the way geosystems are characterized, modified, and monitored. However, many of the applications of these new technologies have yet to be identified. In taking advantage of these new technologies, most geoengineering researchers would benefit from additional background in such areas as electronics, biology, chemistry, material science, information technology, and the geosciences. Rapid progress in applying these new technologies will require revised educational programs and novel research schemes, as well as updated and re-equipped laboratory facilities. Recommendation The National Science Foundation should create opportunities to explore emerging technologies and associated opportunities in three
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Geological and Geotechnical Engineering in the New Millennium: Opportunities for Research and Technological Innovation different types of activities. The first is designed to train researchers in new technologies through directed seed funds for interdisciplinary initiatives, such as continuing education of faculty (off-campus intensive courses), theme-specific sabbaticals, exploratory research initiatives, and focused workshops. The second is to provide funding for new equipment for the adaptation and development of emerging technologies for geoengineering applications. The National Science Foundation Geomechanics and Geohazards Program should emphasize the application of biotechnology, nanotechnology, MEMS, and information technology to geoengineering in its annual Small Business Innovation Research Program solicitation. GEOENGINEERING FOR EARTH SYSTEMS Finding There are no isolated activities in this rapidly changing world. A decision in one place has repercussions in other places, sometimes with dramatic and unanticipated consequences. The influence of countless decisions at all scales is having a marked impact on the environment. In order to respond effectively to issues caused by human interactions with Earth systems, the committee sees a need for a broadened geoengineering discipline. Sustainable development provides a new paradigm for geoengineering practice, in which the tools, techniques, and scientific advances of multiple disciplines are brought to bear on ever more complex problems. Geoengineering has made significant progress since 1989 in addressing societal needs. However, there has been a change in perspective from national to global and a realization that social, economic, and environmental dimensions must be included to develop robust solutions to fulfill these needs. Increased attention to anthropogenic effects on our environment and to sustainable development are important manifestations of this change in perspective.
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Geological and Geotechnical Engineering in the New Millennium: Opportunities for Research and Technological Innovation Recommendation The National Science Foundation should create an interdisciplinary initiative on Earth systems engineering, including Geoengineering for Earth Systems (GES). The problems of GES occur on all scales, from the nano-and microscale behavior of geomaterials, to the place-specific mesoscale investigations and the scale of the globe that responds to climate change. A GES initiative should include any research problem that (1) involves geotechnology and (2) has Earth systems implications or exists in an Earth systems context. In this regard, Earth systems have components that depend on each other (i.e., the outcome of one part of the problem affects the process in another part of the problem), with feedback loops and perhaps dynamical interactions. The parts of the system come from the biosphere (all life on Earth), geosphere (the rocks, soil, water, and atmosphere of Earth), and anthrosphere (political, economic, and social systems), as well as individual components in these spheres. This initiative should include the development of geosystems models and support for adaptive management, data collection, management, interpretation, analysis, and visualization. Finding Multiple government agencies, such as the Department of the Interior, Department of Energy, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Department of Agriculture, Department of Transportation, Department of Defense, and Department of Homeland Security, have interests in Earth system problems. These agencies would be well served by advances in geoengineering that could help to address the complex problems, knowledge gaps, and needs they face. Recommendation National Science Foundation program directors should participate in GES research and development efforts with other agencies by developing
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Geological and Geotechnical Engineering in the New Millennium: Opportunities for Research and Technological Innovation a GES roundtable, sharing and jointly archiving information, and leveraging through cofunded projects. The committee recommends that a workshop be organized to wrestle with the issue of engaging geoengineers in public policy initiatives on Geoengineering for Earth Systems and sustainable development. The National Science Foundation is the ideal sponsor of such a workshop, and the United States Universities Council on Geotechnical Education and Research must be urged to be an active participant along with the American Society of Civil Engineers, American Rock Mechanics Association, and other professional societies. The societies must be represented by their leading practicing-engineer members, rather than by executive administrators of the societies. Unconventional thinking related directly to issues of research and practice and engagement in public policy will be required before the details of how the workshop should be administered are developed. INTERDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH AND EDUCATION Finding Research and educational institutions are normally organized by discipline. The above findings and recommendations can be realized only if the institutions involved recognize the challenge and find new ways to accommodate research, education, and practice. For truly interdisciplinary solutions, cooperation must be invited, encouraged, and rewarded. Structures must exist in universities as well as funding agencies to facilitate collaboration. Recommendations The committee recommends that the National Science Foundation Encourage cross-disciplinary collaboration and collaboration between researchers and industry practitioners and among tool
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Geological and Geotechnical Engineering in the New Millennium: Opportunities for Research and Technological Innovation developers and potential tool users in its proposal preparation guidelines; include such collaboration as an explicit proposal evaluation criterion in its proposal preparation guidelines; and include cross-disciplinary collaboration as an explicit proposal evaluation criterion. Geoengineering proposal review panels should include researchers from related (cross-disciplinary) fields and from other federal research entities to the extent possible. Encourage communication among researchers through principal investigator workshops where principal investigators describe their current NSF-funded work. The National Science Foundation should also require timely dissemination and sharing of experimental data and analytical models using the protocols and data dictionaries being developed for the Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation project. Proposals should provide specific information on dissemination of this information, and “Results of Prior Research” should document dissemination of data from previous NSF-funded work. Conduct a critical evaluation of existing collaboratories and develop criteria for evaluation of collaboratory proposals, including consideration of the relative merit of funding a collaboratory versus funding individual and small-group research. Finding A more diverse workforce in terms of educational background, technical expertise, and application domains, as well as more traditional measures of diversity, is required to bring a broad range of cultural understanding, skills, knowledge, and practice to bear on complex geoengineering problems. In parallel with a new perspective on interdisciplinary research and the transfer and adaptation of knowledge between disciplines, a new perspective on science and engineering education is required so that the new workforce is truly ready to do the research and practice.
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Geological and Geotechnical Engineering in the New Millennium: Opportunities for Research and Technological Innovation The diversity of the geoengineering workforce has improved in the last 30 years but more improvement is still needed. The long-term vitality of the geoengineering field depends on the entry of diverse, creative talent to the field. Recommendation The National Science Foundation should make use of the data it has collected during its efforts to improve the educational foundation for a diverse student population and study new measures that could be taken to improve diversity in geoengineering. This effort should also include exploring, evaluating, and expanding programs that cultivate interaction between principally undergraduate institutions and research institutions. Finding The structure of universities can facilitate interdisciplinary research but is still lacking in its support of interdisciplinary engineering education. Recommendation The National Science Foundation should create an interdisciplinary undergraduate education program to support education appropriate to Geoengineering for Earth Systems and adaptation and transfer of knowledge to geoengineering from such disciplines as nanotechnology, biotechnology, and infotechnology. The National Science Foundation should leverage research funding to engage design and consulting engineers in geoengineering research and development activities. Proposal evaluation criteria could include credit for matching funds and in-kind services from industry, or some portion of available research funds could be dedicated to projects with matching industry support.
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Geological and Geotechnical Engineering in the New Millennium: Opportunities for Research and Technological Innovation In concluding its work, the committee was pleased to learn of the recently completed National Academy of Engineering report Engineering Research and America’s Future: Meeting the Challenges of a Global Economy. The main recommendations in that report are for increased investments at the federal and state levels, especially for fundamental research; upgrading and expanding laboratories, equipment, information technologies, and other infrastructure needs of universities; cultivating greater U.S. student interest in, and aptitude for, careers in engineering and in engineering research in particular; development and implementation of innovative curricula; and revision of current immigration procedures to make it easier to attract top scientific and engineering talent from around the world. Each of these recommendations should be adapted specifically to help meet the challenges of geoengineering in the twenty-first century. This report provides a vision for geological and geotechnical engineering in the new millennium and suggests societal needs that the discipline can help to address. It explores ways that geoengineering should change to achieve this vision. If implemented, the recommendations presented should lead to a revitalization of geotechnology. The excitement of using new and powerful technology will modernize and energize the field, resulting in better and less expensive solutions to long-term applications of geotechnology. New initiatives in GES will allow for geotechnology to address critical issues that affect the sustainability of life on Earth. By looking to new technologies and approaches, geoengineers can help to solve pressing Earth systems problems at all scales.
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