Miners Really Do Dig Deeper; Ask a Geological Engineer
Missouri University of Science and Technology’s Geological Engineering Undergraduate and Graduate degree programs are some of the smallest programs on campus. In 2019, undergraduate enrollment in geological engineering stood at 66 students, while graduate enrollment consisted of 29 students. Despite these small numbers when compared to a degree program such as mechanical engineering which has an undergraduate enrollment of 676 undergraduate students and 86 graduate students, Missouri S&T’s geological engineering department is consistently ranked as one of the top programs in the nation. Job growth in the field of geological engineering outpaces the graduation rate of qualified students and thus, Missouri S&T graduates are in high demand and often receive multiple job offers upon graduation. Missouri S&T’s geological engineering degree programs boast a small ratio of faculty to students for a personal experience. It is typical for upper level courses to consist of fewer than 20 students to 1 professor. On the graduate side of things, enrollment is of even smaller proportion which allows focused professor mentorship. Graduate research in the geological engineering program has historically covered a variety of topics varying from geotechnical emphasis to environmental/hydrological focus.
One current PhD project is in the field of hydrogeophysics and implements geophysical data to estimate hydraulic conductivity. Geophysical data includes ground penetrating radar (GPR), electromagnetic conductivity surveys (EM conductivity surveys), and time domain reflectometry (TDR). GPR creates a cross section of the subsurface as it transmits pulses of high frequency radio waves into the ground through an antenna which is pulled across the ground. The transmitted energy is reflected back by various objects and materials in the ground of differing conductivities. These differences can then be analyzed and mapped. EM conductivity surveys use electromagnetic induction to measure ground conductivity. The system remains above ground and has a transmitter and receiver coil at a constant distance apart which allows readings to occur which are interpreted to map soil types and land drainage. TDR consists of a cable inserted into a borehole. Pulsed signals are sent along the cable and travel back to the surface. The time of travel is recorded. Reflection occurs when resistance changes due to rock masses or soil changes. Times of travel are interpreted to map the subsurface. Comparing these data sets with one another and with soil texture and conductivity data can then be used to predict soil properties through machine-learning or geostatistical methods. This soil property prediction can then be used as a tool for agriculture to determine the most effective planting location for specific crop types and the most effective depth and spacing of drainage tiles for specific crop types.
Another current PhD project makes use of geophysical and hydrological methods such as tTEM, Electrical Resistivity Tomography (ERT), seepage meters to measure ground water in and out of streams, dye tracing to determine flow path, and piezometers which measure depth and pressure of groundwater. The tTEM method is a type of EM conductivity method while ERT uses electrical measurements at the surface to map subsurface electrical properties using electrodes connected to a control box and a resistivity transmitter/receive. Compiling all of this data will allow engineers to locate conduits for groundwater flow and gain a more in depth understanding of gaining/losing streams, spring recharge, and behavior of karst.
Geological engineering is a very diverse field of which the hydrologic aspect is only one small subset. Geological engineers can focus in various other areas such as geotechnical engineering, environmental protection, petroleum and energy engineering, and aggregates and quarry engineering.