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Bull Eng Geol Env (2006) 65: 209–216

DOI 10.1007/s10064-005-0020-3 ORIGINAL PAPER

Helmut Bock Common ground in engineering geology, soil

mechanics and rock mechanics: past, present
and future

Received: 14 May 2005

Abstract Engineering geology, to- mécanique des roches, est com-
Accepted: 1 October 2005 gether with soil mechanics and rock munément considérée comme l’une
Published online: 16 February 2006 mechanics, is commonly considered des trois disciplines scientifiques
Ó Springer-Verlag 2006 to be one of the three fundamental fondamentales dans le domaine de la
scientific disciplines in ground engi- géo-ingénierie. Historiquement, les
neering. Historically, the interrela- relations entre ces trois disciplines
tion between these three disciplines n’ont jamais été dénuées d’ambi-
has never been free of ambiguity. guı̈té. Ceci, par exemple, est mis en
This, for instance, is highlighted by lumière par le fait que à la fois Karl
the fact that both Karl von Terzaghi, von Terzaghi, le fondateur de la
the founder of soil mechanics, and mécanique des sols, et Leopold
Leopold Müller, the founder of rock Müller, le fondateur de la mécanique
mechanics, considered themselves des roches, se considéraient eux-
foremost as engineering geologists mêmes avant tout comme des spé-
without, however, succeeding in cialistes de géologie de l’ingénieur,
establishing engineering geology as a sans cependant avoir réussi à établir
free-standing discipline with auton- la géologie de l’ingénieur comme une
omous intellectual merits, methods discipline à part entière avec des
and procedures. This situation has valeurs, des approches et des méth-
changed recently as evidenced in odes autonomes. Cette situation a
Knill’s fundamental publication changé récemment comme l’a dé-
(2002) on Core Values in Engineer- montré la publication fondamentale
ing Geology and by the fact that the de J. Knill (2002) sur les valeurs
relevant three International Societies premières de la géologie de l’ingéni-
are currently in the process of mov- eur et par le fait que les trois sociétés
ing together towards a ‘‘Federation internationales concernées sont ac-
of Geo-Engineering Societies’’. tuellement engagées dans un pro-
cessus de rassemblement vers une
H. Bock Keywords Engineering geol- « Fédération des Sociétés de Géo-
Q+S Consult, International Consulting for ogy Æ Soil mechanics Æ Rock ingénierie ».
Quality Control and Safety Management in
Geotechnical Engineering, Stoltenkampstr.
1, 48455 Bad Bentheim, Germany Mots clés Géologie de l’ingénieur Æ
E-mail: QS-Consult@t-online.de Résumé La géologie de l’ingénieur, Mécanique des sols Æ Mécanique des
Tel.: +49-5922-2700 avec la mécanique des sols et la roches

Introduction engineer Morgenstern (2000) emphasised the need to

make the general public much more aware, than is
In his keynote address to the millenium conference currently the case, of the pivotal role of ground
GeoEng 2000 in Melbourne, the eminent Canadian engineering. In his contribution, Morgenstern (2000)
210 H. Bock

employed the term ‘‘geotechnical engineering’’ to our undertaking promising steps to overcome the reserva-
lives. As this term is commonly associated with the tions which, for decades, have existed between the
application of soil mechanics to civil engineering prob- various ground engineering disciplines. This and rele-
lems, within this paper and in line with JEWG (2004) the vant perspectives into the future will be outlined in the
wider term ‘‘ground engineering’’ is preferred. An alter- final section of this contribution.
native term to ‘‘ground engineering’’ is ‘‘geo-engineer- Renewed co-operation between the three fundamen-
ing’’ (JTF 2004). tal geotechnical disciplines offers considerable potential
Ground engineering is engineering with, on or within for further scientific progress in ground engineering.
geological materials. In creating solutions which are In Bock Bluming and Konietzky (2005), this is demon-
both environmentally and technically sustainable as well strated by means of a micro-mechanical model of
as cost-effective and safe, ground engineering contrib- the Opalinus Clay, a soft rock which currently has the
utes to the well being and advancement of our society in attention of the scientific community as well as the
many ways. Examples include (JEWG 2004): general public as a potential host rock for the safe
embedment of radioactive waste, one of the most urgent
– Safety of residential and industrial structures (foun-
ground engineering problems of our times.
dations of dwellings and industrial plants)
– Cost effective design and construction of the engi-
neering infrastructure (all types of transportation
routes, pavements and tunnels; buried lines of power, Engineering geology, soil mechanics and rock
gas, water, sewerage, electricity and communication mechanics in the past
– Supply of water, energy and minerals (groundwater; The advent of engineering geology occurred at about
hydro-power energy from reservoirs and underground the same time that modern geological concepts were
caverns; oil and gas from wells; coal, metals and being worked out (i. e. around the turn of the eigh-
minerals from open-cast and underground mines) teenth to nineteenth century). It was also at the time of
– Mitigation of geological hazards (geologically com- a new demand for civil engineering expertise on con-
patible urban and regional planning including flood- struction projects at the onset of industrialisation. The
ing, earthquakes, landslides, volcanic activities, earliest years of engineering geology are often reflected
liquefying and/or collapsing ground) in the person of William Smith. He is noted as ‘‘The
– Alleviation of human-induced hazards (ground pol- Father of British Geology’’ (Legget 1962) as well as for
lution; land remediation; unstable ground in aban- his eminence as a civil engineer. He was involved in
doned mining areas; sub-surface emplacement of important projects as diverse as coal mines, land
chemical and radio-active waste in geological reposi- drainage and canal construction. Within his own
tories), and expertise, William Smith was thus able to cover all
– Sustainable development (conservation of the envi- pertinent aspects which, at that time, were relevant to
ronment including geological habitats, historic mon- ground engineering.
uments, landforms and artefacts in local, urban and
regional development).
Soil mechanics and Karl Terzaghi
Morgenstern (2000) also emphasised the need for an
integrated (or holistic) approach to solving ground In line with the accelerated pace of industrialisation in
engineering problems. His contribution, appropriately the early twentieth century, the body of technological
entitled ‘‘Common Ground’’, paved the way for a re- and scientific knowledge and methods increased im-
newed sense of common purpose across the various mensely. So, too, in the field of ground engineering. It
disciplines involved in ground engineering. The scientific became increasingly difficult to stay in command of all
disciplines which are fundamental in ground engineering relevant aspects of any broader subject area, circum-
are soil mechanics, rock mechanics and engineering stances which fostered specialists rather than generalists.
geology. This dilemma was even experienced by Terzaghi (1883–
Historically, the interrelationship between these three 1963) (Fig. 1) who is universally recognised as the father
disciplines was never free of ambiguity and animosity. of soil mechanics and admired as one the most out-
This will be underlined in the following section by some standing engineers of the twentieth century.
observations on Karl von Terzaghi and Leopold Müller Throughout his professional life Terzaghi considered
who are commonly recognised as the fathers of soil himself not only as an engineer but equally as an engi-
mechanics and rock mechanics respectively. Currently, neering geologist. He considered engineering geology as
and in the sense of Morgenstern (2000), the international an absolutely essential component of ground engineer-
Learned Societies ISSMGE, ISRM and IAEG are ing: ‘‘If you do not succeed in grasping the concepts of
Common ground in engineering geology, soil mechanics and rock mechanics 211

International Society for Soil Mechanics and

Geotechnical Engineering.

Rock mechanics and Leopold Müller

Strangely enough, like Terzaghi, Müller (1908 – 1988)

(Fig. 2), who is widely considered as the father of rock
mechanics, thought of himself foremost as a profes-
sional engineering geologist. Müller believed that all of
his undertakings were in ‘‘the spirit’’ of his university
teachers Josef Stini (the eminent Austrian engineering
geologist who introduced statistical joint measurements
into ground engineering) and Hans Cloos (the brilliant
structural geologist who intuitively discovered the scale
effects in geomechanical models). In many of his pub-
lications, statements can be found like this: ‘‘Rock
engineering remains a sheer nonsense without engineering
Fig. 1 Karl von Terzaghi as painted by Harold Reiterer mid-1930s
(from Goodman 1999)
geology, it is even more dangerous than rock construc-
tion without rock mechanics’’ (Müller-Salzburg 1980,
p 5–6).
engineering geology you ... better keep away from earth-
work engineering’’ (1957). As is documented in Good-
man’s (1999) thoroughly researched and brilliantly
written monograph, Terzaghi – in marked contrast to
his pioneering work on soil mechanics – experienced
major difficulties in coming to grips with the principles
of engineering geology, ‘‘this strangely elusive subject,
slippery like a reptile’’ (1945). Terzaghi was talked into
co-authoring a textbook on engineering geology (Red-
lichTerzaghi and Kampe 1929); however, he never
identified himself with this work. In 1957, some 6 years
before his death, he conceded that there was no further
hope of finishing his own book on engineering geology
‘‘because this subject is, for the time being, too much in a
state of flux and my time is running out’’. This confession
is quite surprising as, in geo-engineering practice, Ter-
zaghi was a master of geological site characterisation
and the development of appropriate strategies as, for
instance, is documented in Rogers (2004). With a certain
degree of frustration, Terzaghi must have felt his own
failure to unify the theoretical and applied aspects of
engineering geology when stating in 1947, on the ques-
tion of a co-operation between geologists and engineers,
that ‘‘... time for publishing generalities on this subject has
already passed ... An example is always more convincing
than the expression of intention’’.
In contrast to engineering geology, and as is well
known across the engineering community, Terzaghi
was instrumental in the establishment of soil mechan-
ics as a free-standing scientific discipline. The land-
marks in this development were the publication of his
book on ‘‘Erdbaumechanik ...’’ in 1925, the First
International Conference on Soil Mechanics at Har-
vard in 1936 and the formation of an international
learned society now known as the ISSMGE, the Fig. 2 Leopold Müller in 1970 (from Baudendistel 1989)
212 H. Bock

In 1976, Müller was convinced that engineering tional society with its own interests and the clear man-
geology had established itself ‘‘as an independent sci- date of its members.
entific discipline and [the] basis of all geotechnical
practice’’. The latter view was reinforced by the
formation of the International Association for Engi- Engineering geology, soil mechanics and rock
neering Geology (IAEG) and the successful staging of mechanics of today and in the future
the First IAEG Congress in 1970 in Paris. However,
his views on the state of engineering geology as an General
autonomous discipline were not generally shared by the
ground engineering community as is evidenced in Knill If, in the past, the dominant feature of the three scientific
(2002). ground engineering disciplines was differentiation and,
It may be of some interest to briefly recall the coming to a certain degree, also segregation, then today, and
of age of rock mechanics as a free-standing scientific hopefully into the future, it is integration and co-oper-
discipline, particularly as this period was closely wit- ation. A number of reasons which have contributed to
nessed by Niek Rengers as a Ph-D student of Leopold such a change can be identified:
Müller at the Institute of Soil Mechanics and Rock
– Decades after Terzaghi’s struggle to come to terms
Mechanics of the Technical University in Karlsruhe.
with the ‘‘strangely elusive subject’’, engineering geol-
Amongst the landmarks of this development were the
ogy has finally found its own identity. As evidenced by
formation of the International Society for Rock
Knill (2002) it has established itself, next to soil
Mechanics, ISRM, in 1962 in Salzburg, Austria with
mechanics and rock mechanics, as a free-standing
Leopold Müller being Inaugural President; the publica-
discipline with autonomous intellectual merits, meth-
tion of Müller’s first book on rock mechanics in 1963
ods and procedures.
and, in 1966, the First ISRM Congress in Lisbon,
– There is an ongoing debate about the particular con-
tribution and responsibilities of engineering geologists
The formation of a new scientific discipline along-
and geotechnical engineers in the solution of problems
side soil mechanics, which, for some 30 years had been
in ground engineering. This is emphasised by differing
an established discipline, occurred not without dispute.
professional definitions and accreditation rules that
Rock mechanics proponents pointed to the importance
exist for geologists and engineers within major in-
of discontinuities which, in contrast to soil, are pre-
dustrialised countries. With the move towards unified
valent in rock in the form of joints, faults, bedding and
standards and the establishment of a world-wide
schistosity planes. It was argued that the mechanical
network of professional services, any deficiencies in
behaviour of such discontinuous materials is distinc-
this regard will be counterproductive to the ground
tively different from that of soil and requires special
engineering profession at large. An integrated ap-
methods in testing, analysis and design (e. g. John
proach of all ground engineering partners is therefore
1962). Opponents argued that the principles of soil
mechanics (in particular the interaction between solids
– In our media-dominated world there is a definite need
and fluids) are equally applicable to rocks. Terzaghi
to raise public awareness and the profile of the ground
himself (1963) was convinced that the high degree of
engineering profession with clients, the general public
variability of rock masses, combined with the great
and with decision makers and politicians. This can
expense of available testing procedures, precluded the
only be achieved through an integrated effort.
possibility of obtaining sufficient information for a
reliable assessment of the mechanical behaviour of rock Against this background and instigated by Morgenstern
structures. (2000), expressions of interest for a closer co-operation
With hindsight and developments since that time, between the three international ground engineering
Morgenstern (2000) acknowledged the specific and societies ISSMGE, ISRM and IAEG were formulated
valuable contribution of rock mechanics in the wider by the respective Presidents of the societies and by the
field of ground engineering. Particularly noticeable were organisers of the Geo Eng 2000 Conference in Mel-
the development of powerful numerical models of join- bourne. Subsequent meetings of the presidents led, in
ted and discrete media and the fostering of links between 2002, to the formation of a Joint European Working
geotechnical, mining and petroleum engineers. He con- Group (JEWG) for the definition of a common scientific
cluded that, whilst there was much overlap in both and professional platform for the three ground engi-
technical content and audience within the soil and rock neering disciplines (Bock et al. 2004) and, in 2003, to a
mechanics communities, it would have been unlikely Joint Task Force (JTF), tasked with working out pro-
that the considerable progress in rock mechanics over posals for a restructuring of the three international
the last 30 or so years would have been achievable societies in the move to establish a ‘‘Federation of
without the formation of a new, identifiable interna- International Geo-Engineering Societies’’. The JEWG
Common ground in engineering geology, soil mechanics and rock mechanics 213

delivered its Final Report to the three presidents in June Solid Fluid
2004 (JEWG 2004), whilst the JTF submitted an Interim Mechanics Mechanics
Soil Mechanics
Report in July 2004 (JTF 2004) with the intention to Geomechanics
release its final report in February 2005.
The common platform as formulated by the JEWG

The following is a brief account of the common scientific

and professional platform developed by the JEWG. The
specification and acceptance of such a platform is one of
the keys in the intended formal co-operation of the Mechanics of
international geo-engineering societies. In August 2004, Discontinua
the JWEG Report was endorsed by the IAEG Council
as a ‘‘Reference Document’’ of the IAEG. Fig. 3 The triangle of geomechanics
In the process of specifying a common platform, the
JEWG identified the following three areas as funda-
mental to ground engineering: discontinua, are branches of material science. Due to
their major field of application, material science in
– Geomechanics, as the umbrella term for both soil general and soil and rock mechanics in particular, are
mechanics and rock mechanics commonly considered to be engineering disciplines.
– Engineering geology and
– Design and implementation of ground engineering
structures (ground engineering in its narrow sense) The triangle of engineering geology
Each of the three areas was associated with three key
aspects that, in line with Knill (2002), are grouped in Ground engineering requires the project specific delin-
subject specific interaction triangles as delineated in the eation of the sub-surface ground conditions. The prin-
following three subsections. cipal aspects involved constitute the ‘‘Triangle of
Engineering Geology’’ (Fig. 4). The triangle is centred
around the main engineering geological activities of site
The triangle of geomechanics: soil mechanics and rock characterisation and synthesis based on the genetic
mechanics understanding of geological materials, structures and
Ground engineering is based on a sound understanding The objective is the setting up of a comprehensive
of the mechanical behaviour of geological materials. geological model. This model requires the specification
Due to the assemblage of solids and fluids and their of two general features, namely, composition and geo-
intrinsic nature within a fractured system, the mechan- logical boundary conditions.
ical behaviour of geological materials must incorporate The composition of the ground and the geological
principles of solid mechanics, fluid mechanics and the processes prevailing at the site are most clearly identified
mechanics of discontinua. These three mechanical dis- and specified if they are considered within a genetic
ciplines define the ‘‘Triangle of Geomechanics’’ (Fig. 3). context. This places engineering geology firmly within
Within the triangle, the relative positions of soil geological science.
mechanics and rock mechanics can be located as shown Current geological conditions and landscapes are the
in Fig. 3. Soil mechanics is the discipline that is char- result of past and ongoing geological processes, which
acterised by the mechanical interaction between solids can pose a hazard to ground engineered structures. The
and fluids, whilst rock mechanics has a strong adherence design and construction of sustainable structures re-
towards the mechanics of discontinua with major influ- quires understanding and accommodation of these
ences from solid and fluid mechanics. processes.
The arrows of Fig. 3 indicate that interaction be-
tween the three principal mechanical disciplines of solid
mechanics, fluid mechanics and the mechanics of dis- The triangle of ground engineering (in its narrow sense)
continua is intrinsic to geomechanics. Accordingly,
coupled (often numerical) models play an outstanding The ‘‘Triangle of Ground Engineering’’ (Fig. 5)
role in both soil mechanics and rock mechanics. encompasses the main activities which are intrinsic to
Soil mechanics and rock mechanics, like solid engineering in a narrow sense, i. e. the analysis and
mechanics, fluid mechanics and the mechanics of design of ground engineering structures and the super-
214 H. Bock

Composition: Boundary conditions: Ground engineering in its broad sense

material, structure, Geological processes
state conditions, Site characterisation
ground water
Geological hazards Ground engineering in its broad sense is understood to
(based on genetic comprise all of the aspects shown in Figs. 3, 4, 5 and
understanding) described in the previous sections: ‘‘Geomechanics (Soil
Mechanics and Rock Mechanics)’’, ‘‘Engineering Geol-
ogy’’ and ‘‘Ground Engineering’’ (in its narrow sense).
When auxiliary terms are eliminated, the terms reduce to
‘‘Mechanics’’, ‘‘Geology’’ and ‘‘Engineering’’. The latter
three terms constitute the fundamental elements of
Geological Model Ground Engineering.
of the site

Fig. 4 The triangle of engineering geology

The integrated approach to solving ground engineering
vision and monitoring of their construction. The focus is
to predict the ground behaviour that is the key to cost Ground engineering is essentially a serial process direc-
effective and safe structures. ted towards the ground engineering structure. The pro-
Ground engineering is based on a ground model that cess is characterised by an integration of all relevant
incorporates the geological model and the relevant aspects, shown in Figs. 3, 4, 5, into a comprehensive
engineering parameters and material properties. For scheme as depicted in Fig. 6.
analysis and design, the ground model is subjected to a Effective ground engineering requires feedback be-
series of modelling investigations (conceptual, physical tween the various disciplines and interaction across the
and/or numerical). The ground is analysed under the numerous aspects involved (interaction arrows
influence of external and internal, natural and man-in- throughout Figs. 3, 4, 5, 6). This, in particular, applies
duced, static and dynamic forces. The analysis includes to the ‘‘central oval’’ of Fig. 6 which is characterised by
the safety of the ground against various types of failure the links between all three interaction triangles consid-
and the deformational behaviour that might impair the ered (Figs. 3, 4, 5).
performance of the structure. An optimal configuration The development of the ground model is central to
of the design parameters is established and provided in this process and includes the embedment of engineering
project drawings and specifications for tendering, con- parameters and material properties into the model. The
tracting and construction. During the construction the task which is required in this phase is considerable and,
ground performance is monitored and the actual in the end, often critical to the quality of the overall
behaviour compared with the predictions. In the case of result. Amongst others, it includes an actualisation of
major discrepancies, adjustments may be implemented, the geological model, the specification of constitutive
usually in line with scenarios considered as part of laws appropriate for the soils and rocks in the model, the
an observational design procedure. In the analysis and derivation of their mechanical properties in laboratory
design, and depending on the type of structure, it is and/or field testing and interpretation in terms of char-
commonly necessary to cooperate with engineers who acteristic and design values. The transfer from derived
specialise in other fields of engineering (e. g. structural, (EN 1997-2) to characteristic and design values (EN
civil, mining, petroleum). 1997-1) is based on the evaluation of sampling and
testing procedures, possible scale effects, regional con-
Ground Modelling: text and experience with the materials.
Model conceptual, It is obvious that this central catalogue of tasks is best
Analysis and Design physical,
numerical discharged in co-operation between engineering geolo-
Construction: gists and geotechnical engineers.
Degree of co-operation between engineering geologists
and geotechnical engineers

The requirement for formal linkages and feedback be-

tween the various professional practitioners within the
Ground behaviour: predicted / actual field of ground engineering is project specific. It is
Geotechnical uncertainty
highest in projects of the geotechnical category 3 de-
Fig. 5 The triangle of ground engineering (narrow sense) fined in Eurocode 7, encompassing the most demanding
Common ground in engineering geology, soil mechanics and rock mechanics 215

Solid Fluid
Mechanics Mechanics

ISSMGE Soil Mechanics


ISRM Mechanics

Idealisation of Modelling:
geomaterial conceptual, physical,
behaviour numerical
Mechanics of
Discontinua Ground
Constitutive laws Cost effective
Laboratory and field testing Ground and safe
Material properties Engineering Geologically and
Derived, characteristic and technically
design values sustainable

material, structure,
state conditions Geological
Ground behaviour:
ground water Model predicted / actual

IAEG Geology

Boundary conditions:
Geological processes Project Partners
Geological hazards General Public, Clients, Planners, Funders, Insurers
Engineers (e. g. Civil, Structural, Mining, Petroleum)

Fig. 6 The position of soil mechanics, rock mechanics and engineering geology and the associated international societies within ground
engineering (modified after JEWG 2004)

geotechnical projects. Such dominance gradually de- Résumé of the position of engineering geology within
creases with the geotechnical categories 2 and 1. ground engineering
Accordingly, the degree of explicit co-operation be-
tween engineering geologists and geotechnical engineers To our knowledge, it is for the first time ever that, on an
can be linked to the geotechnical categories as specified international level, the position of engineering geology
in Table 1. in ground engineering has been defined within an official
Engineering geologists and geotechnical engineers are document, unanimously with the soil and rock
unified in their overall objective to create a geologically mechanics engineers. Clearly, this is an achievement in
and technically sustainable, cost effective and safe its own right.
engineering solution. As shown in Fig. 6 and as elaborated upon
throughout the JEWG Report, engineering geology is
Table 1 Level of co-operation between engineering geologists and seen as one of the scientific disciplines intrinsic to
geotechnical engineers ground engineering in its broad sense. Although based
Geotechnical Co-operation on a non-engineering scientific field, engineering geol-
categoryEurocode 7 ogy is positioned at the same hierarchical level as soil
mechanics and rock mechanics, interacting with them
1 Optional in many aspects. There is no room for some of the
2 Desirable more traditional views that ‘‘engineering geology’s role
3 Essential
...... is essentially that of a service agent’’ to engineers
216 H. Bock

(Fookes 1997). Clearly, within the broader ground and no pertinent aspect should be omitted’’ (Knill 2002,
engineering context, ‘‘all aspects must be kept in balance p. 15).


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