Regarding labs, there are two 75-minute labs per week, immediately following the two 75-minute lectures. I like this approach very much, because I can more closely time the introduction of lab exercises with the material covered in the lecture. I wish I had a better geotechnical lab, but the students certainly get the basics of what they may expect to do if they are hired at entry level by an engineering company. Trying to get the students to be proficient in the use of professional software is an uphill battle, because it takes time and a lot of effort to learn how to use engineering software. I wish I did have time to work out better case studies.
Regarding fieldtrips, I have finally given up trying to force unmotivated students to attend, and now I let them know: "We are a "learning university", which means I give you the opportunity to learn, and it is up to you to take it or leave it. So, the fieldtrips are OPTIONAL learning opportunities, and you will receive no brownie points if you attend them, nor will you be penalized if you don't." Since then fieldtrips have been a lot more enjoyable and productive for us all.
Students will be able to
- Identify the data needed by the civil or sanitary engineer to design a structure (e.g., a landfill). This includes soil and rock mechanics data, surface geologic mapping, core drilling, interpretation of geophysical data, location of construction materials, slope stability assessment, liquefaction susceptibility assessment, and seismic deformation analysis.
- Use the data in a fault investigation study to assess whether the fault is capable for generating an earthquake. If the fault is capable, the student will be able to assess the magnitude of a credible earthquake along that fault, and the peak horizontal acceleration such earthquake could induce at different distances from the fault.
- Conduct a slope stability analysis using STABLE-like software.
- Describe the different components of a mineralized system. Recognize the practical importance of rock alteration patterns.
- Recognize different types of alteration using a selected suite of samples in the laboratory, and selected outcrops in the Yerington, NV mineralized district.
- Describe the different components of a geothermal system.
- Using aerial photographs or satellite images, map structural and ground alteration patterns that could indicate the presence of a geothermal system.
"Sustainability" is a concept that I have a hard time applying to the things we do. All students agree that the Yerington pit is a big scar on the land, and that future mining operations have to make provisions for landscape restoration. However, extractive industries (minerals, construction materials, oil, gas, geothermal fluid) are intrinsically non-sustainable. Limiting the use of resources may prolong their lifetime, but ultimately there is only a finite amount of mineral resources available for extraction. The job of the exploration geologist is not to try to boycott development, but to keep finding new resources.
The other example where "sustainability" comes to the foreground is sanitary landfills. A modern sanitary landfill is a careful piece of civil engineering, and it plays an important role in maintaining a high standard of sanitary protection for the local population. The job of the engineering geologist and civil engineer is to design a structure that is stable and will do the job for a long time. However, there is a finite capacity to any landfill, so when we use all the available space we have to move on and design a new structure. Until society stops generating refuse, our job is to keep designing good containment structures, and not to picket in front of the garbage collection companies.
Landfills are a good example of a case where regulation and public opinion prevent us from using the best possible engineering solution: Because the public is ignorantly scared of landfills, and regulations require the minimal possible amount of leachate, we have to design the containment structures to remain as "dry" as possible, thus arresting refuse decay and assuring mummification of the refuse for centuries. Instead, if we could allow moisture into the landfill, refuse would decay, and this decay would produce natural gas we could harness and new storage space as the decayed refuse compacts. Yes, there would be more leachate generated, but that is why we have carefully designed a leachate collection system and the leachate collection could be reapplied to the landfill over and over again.
I believe that the greatest threat to the environment is poverty, since he who is poor has no option but to deplete the resources around him (Haiti is a good example, in which lack of energy resources has led to denudation of half of the island of Santo Domingo as all vegetation has been gathered to serve as firewood. Denudation has triggered total environmental collapse in Haiti). I emphatically tell my students that if they want a sustainable environment the first step is to stamp out abject world poverty!
References and Notes:
Selected readings in mineral and geothermal exploration. I also have them re-read portions of their geophysics text "Looking into the Earth: An Introduction to Geological Geophysics" by Alan E. Mussett and M. Aftab Khan.