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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