Forensic geoscience, as paraphrased from a definition of “forensic,” is the component of geological sciences that belongs to or is used suitably in courts of judicature and/or public discussion and debate. Murray and Tedrow (1974) in their text, Forensic Geology, describe only those areas of forensic geology that primarily relate to criminal investigations. In the ensuing decade and a half, however, the field has expanded and changed radically. This review defines and describes the subject in a much broader sense, including such forums as public discussion and debate. The principal examples cited are the applied geosciences component of engineering works.
Clearly, forensic geoscience, like consulting geology, is not a branch of geological sciences but rather a category of geological application. Yet it is important to separate forensic geoscience from the other areas of applied geoscience because the orientation and methodology of forensic geoscientists is normally quite different from that of the main body of practicing geoscientists. Furthermore, because much of forensic geological practice is focused on influencing public decisions of a judicial, regulatory, or legislative nature, forensic geoscience today owes its existence to government policies as expressed through laws, regulations, the judiciary, and public works.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the greatest volume of the litigation component of forensic geoscience was concerned with mining and water supplies, along with occasional criminal cases. However, by the 1930s, more forensic geological work was gradually being applied to engineering works, primarily for determining responsibility for engineering errors, unforeseen adverse conditions, and the determination of mineral values in eminent domain cases when land was taken for engineering projects.
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The Heritage of Engineering Geology; The First Hundred Years
A review of milestones and changes in geological theory and practice from which modern engineering geology in North America has developed. Five chapters discuss historical events and the contributions of early scientists and engineers; nine chapters review the state of knowledge of dominant geologic processes, phenomena, and specialized principles critical to modern practice; and three chapters discuss geologic environs and the properties of construction materials. Four chapters are devoted to geoscience investigations and related techniques for: initial regional-areal evaluation of conceptual candidate sites (Phase I); selection of preferred-designated sites and design (Phase II); typical kinds of investigations used during project construction (Phase III); and as-built documentation and explorations of the operating or rehabilitation phases. Closing chapters focus on the geoscientist's responsibilities relative to engineering failures, errors of judgment that impact works, litigation, and forensic geoscience. The 34 contributors present extensive case histories applicable worldwide.