Challenge A. Human Impact and Engineered Solutions

The Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) has announced a plan to build a high-speed rail line connecting Austin, Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston. The line will have "scenic connectors" that transport tourists to locations in the Central Texas Hill Country. Specific rail corridors have not been decided; site investigations need to occur first. You and your team of colleagues work for a geological engineering firm, and will conduct site investigations for the project. It is your responsibility to decide if the region is suitable for such a project.

TXDOT would like answers to the following questions: (1) Is the region stable from faults, earthquakes, and volcanism? What other potential hazards are associated with building across the geological regimes of Texas? (2) Are there cultural or conservational issues (human or ecosystem) that may impact a large engineering project? (3) What are the primary geological regimes of Texas as you travel along the rail? How are the lithologies going to impact the feasibility of building the rail?

Learning Objectives

Students who successfully complete Challenge A can construct an explanation based on evidence for how the regional geology, geomorphology, occurrence of natural hazards, and climate influences their engineering design for the planned railway (NGSS HS ESS3: Earth and Human Activity).

Questions drive scientific investigation and the pursuit of engineering design/ solutions. Examples of Essential Questions (Mapped to the Earth Science (ES) Literacy Principles)

  1. How do natural hazards pose risks to humans and their structures? (ES 8)
  2. How does increasing community awareness relate to reducing the risk of natural hazards? (ES 8.8)
  3. What sudden or gradual changes will natural hazards present in your structure? (ES 8.4)
  4. What protocols or measures are going to be necessary to alleviate predicted natural hazard impacts, whether natural or human-influenced? (ES 8.3, 8.7)
  5. How will water resources be impacted by the construction of the rail system? (ES 7.5, 9.1)
  6. How will landscape-shaping processes, such as fluvial-related erosion from fluvial systems, shape the path and feasibility of the project? (ES 5.6)
  7. How will the rail system affect the quality, availability, and distribution of Earth's water, also considering that man-made structures already exist (i.e. dams)? (ES 9.4)
  8. How does evidence of past natural hazards improve estimates of when and where natural hazards occur (ES 8.6, 1.5)
  9. How does of weathering and unstable rock material impact the long-term stability of engineering projects? (ES. 4.8)
  10. Given the processes that formed different geological regions of Texas, how will those processes affect the building of the rail system (ES 4.1)


Formative: Instructors will check each team's progress toward solving the challenge, using the Daily Deliverables Team Road Check Report.docx (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 20kB Apr30 19).

Summative: "Go Public"-- On the last day of your GeoFORCE/ STEMFORCE experience, all teams will showcase the challenge products to their peers and a panel of expert guests. GoPublic_rubric_HLee.docx..docx (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 25kB May13 19). One team member will deliver the lightning talk.