It’s common to hear the refrain in geotechnical circles that our profession has plateaued. New theories and technologies, so common in the mid-1900s, are slower to arrive and less relevant in day to day practice. Standards have replaced innovation, and software has replaced engineering. The work going on around our industry in New Zealand – particularly in the field of geohazards – suggests that this view is undeserved.
At the recent 6th International Conference on Earthquake Geotechnical Engineering held in Christchurch we saw New Zealand academics and professionals working at the top of the global industry. As an example, Brendan Bradley has become the youngest individual ever to receive the Shamsher Prakash Research Award, the most prestigious international award in geotechnical earthquake engineering, and, in 2015, was the youngest recipient ever of the Young Research Award given by the International Society for Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering’s Technical Committee on Earthquake Geotechnical Engineering and Associated Problems.
In Auckland the DeVoRA (Determining Volcanic Risk in Auckland) project team is undertaking world-first research comparing risk from volcanic hazards to weather, tsunami, and other natural hazards. In Wellington lessons are being learned from the Port Hills of Christchurch through a research project to assess potential losses from slope stability hazards across the region.
All across the country new research and knowledge from past events is providing a more robust evidence base for geotechnical projects. Organisations including NZGS, MBIE, and EQC are converting this into practical guidance for practitioners in the form of practice notes and guidance documents. Of particular note are the Earthquake Geotechnical Engineering Practice modules, of which so far Modules 1 (overview), 3 (identification, assessment and mitigation of liquefaction hazards) and 5a (Specification for ground improvement for residential properties in the Canterbury region) have been published, with more to follow in the coming months.
The challenge now is for the profession to keep up with the volume of new knowledge and guidance available. A programme of training is under development to help, and is likely to culminate in further focussed sessions at the next NZGS Symposium (planned for Napier on 23-25 November 2017 – save the date!).
All NZGS members have a professional obligation to keep up to date with current practice. I urge you all to read the draft guidelines as they are published, provide feedback where appropriate, and attend the training sessions when they are run.
Finally, there is an unwritten rule that co-editors step down after two or three years to share the responsibility and keep the bulletin fresh. Please welcome your new Geomechanics News co-editor Don McFarlane. Don is so well known in the industry that he requires no formal introduction here. Between Marlène and Don there is no doubt that this publication will thrive. Thank you to all the contributors who, over the past three years, have made the editing job both interesting and fun. Keep the great articles coming.