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Geomorphology in engineering geological mapping and modelling

Abstract

By now, geomorphological assessment should have become an important component of engineering geological investigation and modelling and yet there are concerns that its use lacks clear guidance. As a result, and for reasons of unfamiliarity, geomorphological assessment can be either under-utilised or not utilised at all, sometimes with adverse engineering outcomes. Four case studies are described that provide illustration of the inclusion of geomorphological assessment a) within engineering geological modelling and b) directly within the sphere of engineering decision-making and design. The discussion focuses on how geomorphological assessment can be utilised to 1) assist in the planning of ground investigations and the interpretation of subsurface ground conditions for ground modelling purposes, 2) assess the geohazard posed by slope, fluvial and other processes and 3) consider the sensitivity of geomorphological systems (geo-systems) to change, thus providing some insight into how geohazard mechanisms, locations and intensities might change during the operational lifetime of engineering schemes. Outline procedures are proposed for the development of geomorphologically inclusive approaches to engineering geological modelling.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Engineering geomorphology is the application of geomorphology—the study of Earth surface processes, landforms and their constituent materials—to inform engineering design and help answer and resolve engineering questions and problems associated with the terrain, its geohazards and its ground conditions. To the author’s knowledge, A Hansen (Hansen 1984) was the first among UK/Hong Kong-based geo-practitioners to refer in print to the term engineering geomorphology, in relation to landscape interpretation in Hong Kong.

  2. 2.

    Since the first Glossop Lecture (Fookes 1997), an extensive body of literature has been published describing the use of, inter alia, geological models (e.g. Fookes 1997; Fookes et al. 2001; Brunsden 2002; Knill 2003; Culshaw 2005; GEO 2007; Baynes 2010; Culshaw and Price 2011), geomodels (e.g. Griffiths and Stokes 2008; Fookes et al. 2015), landscape (evolution) and geomorphological landform models (e.g. Hansen 1984; Brunsden et al. 1981; Fookes et al. 1985; Fookes et al. 2001; Griffiths and Stokes 2008; Hearn et al. 2012; Ruse et al. 2013; Fookes et al. 2015; Hearn and Pettifer 2016), engineering geological models (e.g. Griffiths et al. 2004; Culshaw 2005; Parry et al. 2014), engineering geomorphological models (Ruse et al. 2013), engineering geological ground models (Griffiths 2016), engineering geology environment models (Fookes et al. 2001), ground models (e.g. Vaughan 1994; Brunsden 2002; Knill 2003; GEO 2007; Hearn et al. 2011; Ruse et al. 2013; Moore et al. 2017; Sweeney 2017) and design models (GEO 2007). Here, the following terms are used: i) geological model to depict the 3D structure of the underlying geology; ii) landscape model to demonstrate how the landscape has evolved and continues to evolve in relation to underlying geology and geomorphological processes; iii) engineering geological model to synthesise and portray all available geo-data in terms of its engineering significance and iv) ground model to show the depth and configuration of rock and soil layers, slip surfaces, groundwater table and other pertinent engineering geological features for geotechnical analysis and design. For simplicity, ii) might be considered as a variant on i) with an emphasis on geomorphology, while iv) is the end-product of iii).

  3. 3.

    Neither BSI (2015) ‘BS EN 5930:2015 Code of Practice for Site Investigations’ nor Parry et al. (2014) ‘Engineering Geological Models’ provide any guidance.

  4. 4.

    Processes that lead to a change in geo-system structure and behaviour, such as major geophysical events, land use change and climate change

  5. 5.

    Contrasting, for example, with the 3D digital ground models developed by Kessler et al. (2008) in the UK and USA.

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Acknowledgements

The author would like to thank G Pettifer for his invaluable contribution to the work illustrated from Ethiopia, along with that of I Hodgson and S d’Agostino. The Ethiopian work was undertaken on behalf of URS Scott Wilson, now AECOM, for its client the Ethiopian Roads Authority (ERA), which is also gratefully acknowledged. The Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Hong Kong work illustrated was also undertaken while the author was employed at Scott Wilson. The PNG work was carried out on behalf of Ok Tedi Mining Limited (OTML) with guidance and contributions from P Fookes (principal consultant to OTML), R Blong, G Humphries, R Mason and P Maconochie. Comments received by P Fookes, I Hodgson, G Pettifer and T Hunt on drafts of this paper are gratefully acknowledged, as are those of R Moore and another anonymous reviewer. All drawings were prepared by K Finlay of KJ Creative.

The Dharan-Dhankuta road was designed by Rendel Palmer & Tritton (RPT, now Rendel Ltd) and it was RPT’s engineering geological consultant P Fookes that specified the use of geomorphological assessment as part of the road design.

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Hearn, G. Geomorphology in engineering geological mapping and modelling. Bull Eng Geol Environ 78, 723–742 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10064-017-1166-5

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Keywords

  • Field mapping
  • Engineering geological modelling
  • Landslides
  • Geomorphology
  • Geo-systems
  • Geohazards