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Book Chapter

Failures, Errors of Judgement, Litigation, and the Geologist's Responsibility

January 01, 1991


During the twentieth century, remarkable changes have transpired in the attitudes of engineers and related specialists toward the importance and relevance of geological input into the success of most engineering works. During the early decades it was difficult to determine whether it was negligence or an inadequacy of geologists that resulted in failure to convey the pertinent data needed by engineers and associated professionals to quantify the geologic setting and features. All too often the geologist was prone to a lofty, scientific style of report or oral presentation that was foreign to the intended user. We (the authors) were introduced to this situation early in our careers. One prominent project engineer caustically informed one of us (LB J), “Engineers are not interested in a classification of rocks as ‘herbiverous or car-niverous,’ but rather with the physical evaluation of geological conditions and a prediction of the potential effects of areal-site conditions on the safety and performance of project.”

In a similar thrust, dam-builder H. F. Bahmeier (personal communication, 1936) counselled the other (GAK) with, “Professor Berkey is my preferred consultant because he is the only geologist I can understand.”

Unfortunately, past misunderstandings frequently created schisms and polarized the two disciplines. In extreme instances, some project engineers minimized the importance of adequate geological investigations or scorned the data and recommendations of geologists as of little practical value. Sadly, some of the resulting engineering works ultimately experienced difficulties and/or failure due to the geologic conditions, such as the Baldwin Hills and Vaiont Reservoirs, and the Malpasset and Teton Dams. Fortunately, today a mutual interdisciplinary respect exists for the importance of mature, field-experienced geological input for engineering purposes.

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DNAG, Centennial Special Volumes

The Heritage of Engineering Geology; The First Hundred Years

George A. Kiersch
George A. Kiersch
Professor Emeritus, Geological Sciences Cornell University
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Geological Society of America
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Publication date:
January 01, 1991




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