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Geotechnical systems that evolve with ecological processes

DeJong, J., Tibbett, M. and Fourie, A. (2015) Geotechnical systems that evolve with ecological processes. Environmental Earth Sciences, 73 (3). pp. 1067-1082. ISSN 1866-6299

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1007/s12665-014-3460-x


Geotechnical systems, such as landfills, mine tailings storage facilities (TSFs), slopes, and levees, are required to perform safely throughout their service life, which can span from decades for levees to “in perpetuity” for TSFs. The conventional design practice by geotechnical engineers for these systems utilizes the as-built material properties to predict its performance throughout the required service life. The implicit assumption in this design methodology is that the soil properties are stable through time. This is counter to long-term field observations of these systems, particularly where ecological processes such as plant, animal, biological, and geochemical activity are present. Plant roots can densify soil and/or increase hydraulic conductivity, burrowing animals can increase seepage, biological activity can strengthen soil, geochemical processes can increase stiffness, etc. The engineering soil properties naturally change as a stable ecological system is gradually established following initial construction, and these changes alter system performance. This paper presents an integrated perspective and new approach to this issue, considering ecological, geotechnical, and mining demands and constraints. A series of data sets and case histories are utilized to examine these issues and to propose a more integrated design approach, and consideration is given to future opportunities to manage engineered landscapes as ecological systems. We conclude that soil scientists and restoration ecologists must be engaged in initial project design and geotechnical engineers must be active in long-term management during the facility’s service life. For near-surface geotechnical structures in particular, this requires an interdisciplinary perspective and the embracing of soil as a living ecological system rather than an inert construction material.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Life Sciences > School of Agriculture, Policy and Development > Department of Sustainable Land Management > Centre for Agri-environmental Research (CAER)
ID Code:42235
Publisher:Springer Berlin Heidelberg

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