The undeniable reality of climate change poses a multifaceted challenge to our world and has the potential to change our future. This phenomenon brings a series of changes to our planet, which includes variation in sea levels, harsh weather: unprecedented, prolonged scorching summer and relentless crippling winter, altered and uncertain precipitation patterns, and widespread glacier retreat. All the said changes are affecting our daily lives, the ecosystem of our planet along with the civil infrastructure. A dynamically changing climate necessitates a proactive approach from the field of geotechnical engineering to mitigate the threat posed to stable and safe foundations, slopes, tunnels, overhead bridges, skyscrapers, and other infrastructure projects.

The Impact of Climate Change on Geotechnical Considerations

 

Rapidly changing climate is disturbing the very foundation: soil and rocks, upon which we build, influencing traditional geotechnical considerations in multiple manners:

Climate change presents a complex and ever-evolving challenge.

Some geotechnical engineers like those at Marshall GeoScience are researching and discovering innovative techniques to create a safer and more sustainable geotechnical engineering practice.

A dynamically changing climate necessitates a proactive approach from the field of geotechnical engineering to mitigate the threat posed to stable and safe foundations, slopes, tunnels, overhead bridges, skyscrapers, and other infrastructure projects.

Climate change presents a complex and ever-evolving challenge.

Geotechnical Solutions for a Changing Climate

The Impact of Climate Change on Geotechnical Considerations

Rapidly changing climate is disturbing the very foundation: soil and rocks, upon which we build, influencing traditional geotechnical considerations in multiple manners:

  • Increased Precipitation and Flooding: Frequent heavy rain showers and continuously evolving precipitation patterns triggered dramatic increases in infiltration rates, pore-water pressure, and reduced effective stress in soils. All the aforementioned changes directly influence the strength and stability of the soil, i.e., soil liquefaction, seepage failures, landslides, increased soil erosion, and differential settlement.

  • Droughts and Desertification:

    Likewise, a decrease in precipitation has the potential to pose a significant challenge to modern civil infrastructure. Desertification results in drier soil, leaving it more vulnerable to cracking and shrinkage, which in turn decreases the stability of slopes and the foundation of any civil infrastructure built on such soil

  • Rising Sea Levels: Infrastructure built on or near the coastal belt is vulnerable to changes in sea levels. A significant rise in sea level heightened the risk of erosion, inundation, and saltwater intrusion into soils hence posing major risks to foundations and structures in the said area.

  • Temperature Fluctuations: Non-uniformity and variance in temperature with respect to prior data available may also lead to unexpectedly higher expansion or contraction of the soil. Thus, variable temperatures can inflict significant damage on any infrastructure.

  • Acid Rain: Acid rain has the potential to change the chemical nature of soil i.e., PH of soil. It also erodes surfaces and deteriorates the foundations of any structure.

Geotechnical Solutions for a Changing Climate

Developing innovative solutions to tackle challenges posed by the rapidly changing climate is the need of the hour. Some of the important areas which require the keen attention of geotechnical engineers are briefly mentioned below.

  • Global Climate Models: Engineers can predict site-specific impacts of changing climatic conditions by downscaling global climate models to a local scale. These models are helpful in informed decisions during the designing of the infrastructure.

  • Resilient Infrastructure Design: Ensuring structural integrity and stability is the primary job of a geotechnical engineer. So, infrastructure projects should be revised to incorporate the results of thermo-hydro-mechanical analysis of soil in the dynamically changing climate of our planet to withstand changes in temperature and moisture content of the soil because of harsh climatic changes. This may be done by using more robust materials, deeper foundations, and improved drainage systems.

  • Nature-Based Solutions: Utilizing the power of nature is another aspect being explored by the professionals in the field. Collaborating with ecologists and other relevant departments for natural solutions like vegetation and planting trees on the slope can significantly decrease the chances of erosion and hence increase the stability of civil infrastructure. Moreover, the coastal area is naturally home to features that can protect the infrastructure along the coastal belt i.e., wetlands and mangroves can be helpful to stop the intrusion of salty water.

  • Soil Improvement Techniques: A variety of techniques are available to enhance the engineering properties of soil to make it more suitable for construction purposes. A diverse range of techniques exist to enhance the strength and stability of soil. Some commonly known techniques are namely, mechanical compaction (to increase the strength and density of soil), grouting (to strengthen soil by filling voids in soil), and installing drains (to remove excess water from the soil). In short, these techniques are helpful in mitigating the effects of climate change to a significant extent.

  • Advanced Monitoring Systems: Keeping track of changes in the properties of soil, via monitoring systems, in real time is of utmost importance. Advanced monitoring systems comprise of sensors installed at different depths in the soil, remote sensing via satellite and aerial images, and ground penetrating radars. Moisture content, pH and chemical composition of the soil, and electrical conductivity can be monitored using a sensor-based system. While vegetation cover, moisture content, and imaging of the subsurface soil can be done with the help of satellites and radars. The set of data acquired from the monitoring system plays a crucial role in tracking changes in soil conditions and infrastructure performance, thus allowing engineers to timely recognize the problem and propose solutions to avoid its drastic impact on the civil infrastructure.
  • Sustainable Geo-Materials: The use of sustainable composites made by utilizing recycled or waste materials not only reduces greenhouse gas emissions but also helps to save natural resources. These composites are lighter in weight as compared to conventional materials like concrete and steel and can withstand high temperatures, UV radiation, and precipitation. Utilizing these materials brings two major improvements in the structure: seismic performance, and durability against dynamically changing climatic conditions.

The Role of Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence

Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence offer new insight into soil behavior. Currently, algorithms of Machine Learning can analyze data from various sensors, and past geotechnical studies of the soil and climate data. This gives a better understanding of the soil behavior under different scenarios. Moreover, AI models can be trained to accurately predict the risk factor of infrastructure in a particular area by analyzing records of geotechnical failures, and present climatic conditions. Artificial Intelligence is transforming geotechnical engineering by giving a clearer picture of soil behavior due to changing climatic conditions, thus making the decision-making process more streamlined and efficient.

Collaboration is Key

Working together is crucial to effectively address the challenges posed by the changes in climate. All the concerned stakeholders, which may include geotechnical engineers, the public, and policymakers, must make collaborative efforts to develop and implement solutions to decrease the adverse effects of climatic changes on our infrastructure for the resilient future of mankind on this planet.

Conclusion

Climate change presents a complex and ever-evolving challenge. However, geotechnical engineers are adopting innovative techniques, and prioritizing resilient infrastructure design so that we can create a safer and more sustainable future for generations to come.

Working together is crucial to effectively address the challenges posed by the changes in climate.