NZ Geomechanics News

Chair’s corner

In December I wrote about how busy our geotechnical sector has been. That feels like a long time ago now, and much has changed for us all in the first half of this year. NZGS activities have been significantly affected by the COVID-19 lockdown and related economic impacts. We are a voluntary organisation and our members have had to prioritise their work and family lives in these challenging times.

Despite this we have achieved some great successes. I’m particularly proud of how our NZGS Symposium organising committee have worked tirelessly on contingency plans, and it’s through their efforts (and those of our whole country in lockdown) that we are now in a good position to run a successful event in October. We have a full programme with very high-quality papers and are looking forward to finally being able to get together again with our friends from around the industry.

Our branches have run a series of excellent online talks to fill the gap left in our evening meeting schedules. These have attracted huge audiences and demonstrate how much demand there is for technical presentations. We will still want to get together in the future to discuss our shared interests, but this forced experiment proved that delivering some of our presentations online is popular and should continue. I am very grateful for the hard work of our branch coordinators who made this happen in the most trying of circumstances.

We have also run a scheme to provide grants to upload the data to the New Zealand Geotechnical Database. This scheme was designed as a win-win for the organisations that received funding and for the wider geotechnical community. The companies were given the opportunity to productively use some of their down-time during this period of uncertainty, while the geotechnical community got cost effective access get new, high-value data online which would otherwise have languished in private archives. Priority was given to companies that had demonstrated commitment to data uploads in the past, and I encourage you all to use any spare time to boost your own data uploads.

Changes on the management committee

Sadly we have had to say farewell to Stuart Read, one of our most influential and hard-working committee members, who has reached the end of his term as Australasian Vice President for the International Society Rock for Mechanics and Rock Engineering (ISRM). Following tradition he has handed this role over to a representative from the Australian Geomechanics Society, Sevda Dehkhoda. His place on the NZGS committee has been filled by Paul Horrey of Beca, who will work with Sevda to represent our interests.

Paul leads Beca’s geotechnical team in Christchurch, and is an engineering geology and rock mechanics specialist. As a Chartered Professional Engineer and a Chartered Geologist he’s perfectly suited to represent our interests with the ISRM.

International speakers

Sally Hargraves continues her role looking after the branches and co-ordinating international speakers. She has been hugely successful at getting speakers fro m around the world to visit New Zealand to share their knowledge, but unfortunately all overseas visits are currently off and once restrictions on international travel are lifted, will be revisited. Sally is working with the Symposium organising committee to investigate options for online presentations to replace visits in the meantime.

Occupational regulation

The NZGS committee have been working closely with Engineering NZ to give advice to MBIE on occupational regulation, and particularly how the changes proposed following the Royal Commission.

The Ministry’s work on the occupational regulation of engineers is on hold as the country responds to the threat of Covid-19. In the wake of Covid-19, we expect MBIE will be reassessing its work programme, including whether it will progress the occupational regulation of engineers.

National Seismic Hazard Model

The NZGS has been invited by the team responsible for updating the National Seismic Hazard Model to provide practitioner representatives on their Technical Advisory Group
to help them understand the technical implications of the decisions they
will be making. I’m delighted to announce that the NZGS will be represented by Rick Wentz and Andreas Giannakorgiorgos.
Rick has a wealth of experience in this field, and his expertise in geotechnical earthquake engineering will be invaluable for the committee. Andreas brings significant geotechnical earthquake engineering skills from New Zealand and Greece and will provide advice on how the model is used in everyday practice.

Above – Progress on the Earthquake Geotechnical Engineering modules

Earthquake Geotechnical Engineering Modules

We are working closely with Engineering NZ and MBIE to finalise the Earthquake Geotechnical Engineering modules. These were originally published in “preliminary draft” form. They’ve now been tested and some really good feedback has been received, so it is time to finalise the documents. This two-year programme is now 12 months in and is on track for time and budget.
The NZGS committee is keen to involve more young engineers in this project. The intent of this is threefold:

  • To provide continuity for future module updates. It is hoped that the nominees will be available in future years and will be able to use the lessons learned from their time on the finalisation project to efficiently update the documents.
  • To provide opinions to the author panel from practicing engineers on how the modules are currently being used in practice.
  • To provide learning opportunities for specific members who can then share the knowledge with their colleagues.

I am very pleased to report that our first nomination to support these modules is Ananth Balachandra. Ananth is a geotechnical engineer with strong experience in probabilistic seismic hazard analysis, seismic site response analysis and numerical modelling, as well as being a very practical engineer.

Other NZGS Activities

I have continued to work with MBIE representing the geotechnical profession on their Building Code Technical Advisory Group (BCTRAG). This group meets quarterly to raise technical issues and recommend improvements for MBIE to consider. If you have any issues that you would like raised with MBIE please contact me using

Tony Fairclough is leading the NZGS involvement in the joint NZGS/SESOC project “ASG Piling Specification Review and Update Project”.

Our project to create a guideline for the design and installation of ground anchors and soil nails has made a promising start under the guidance of Katy Cotingham, working with Jethro Neeson,
Kevin Anderson, Nima Taghipouran, Robert Hillier, Michael Sorensen, Lars Schmidt, Stuart Finlan, Greg Saul, Ian McPherson, Adam Campbell, Tim Pervan, Brabha, David Sharp, Michael Ashby, and Kyle Webster.

Other key projects in our work programme for this year are:

  • An update to the Field Guide to Soil and Rock Description.
  • Starting work on a practice guide for slope stability.
  • Updates to the New Zealand Ground Investigation Specification to incorporate feedback.

These projects are still in the scoping phase, with the start delayed by the impact of the COVID-19 restrictions.


This has been a most unusual and challenging time for our members and for the society. We are fortunate that we have been able to continue many of our activities, and the hard work of all our volunteers has been humbling. Thank you all. We are now well placed to continue our activities in the second half of the year, the highlight of which will no doubt be our symposium in October. I really hope to see you there.

NZ Geomechanics News
Ross Roberts
NZ Geomechanics News>Issue 99 – June 2020
Society News

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