Geological Engineer

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Geological Engineer


All geological engineering projects are supported by or built on rock or soil. Since these projects erected on natural foundations are subject to earthquakes, floods, landslides, ground water, volcanic eruptions and other natural events, it is important that geological engineers are a part of the building process. They are knowledgeable about the mechanical properties and stability of rocks and sediments. They can also anticipate the impact of harsh climate conditions and all other natural disasters on the foundations that bear these structures when initially designing them.

Geological engineers work in a natural environment to develop design criteria for human habitation of the earth where an understanding of earth materials is involved. They apply science techniques and engineering principles to the study of rocks, soil and ground water. Geological engineers assess the natural foundations for buildings, bridges, dams, reservoirs, powerplants, pipelines, highways, canals, sewers, tunnels, mines and harbors. On construction sites, they explore the physical and chemical properties of the structural materials and water.

A geological engineer can work in a number of different professional environments that includes petroleum, civil or mining engineering, groundwater, geology, soil stability, waste management, natural resource exploration, or any project that requires an understanding of the behavior of earth materials. They advise contractors and officials on land use and urban and industrial planning. They investigate and report on waste disposal sites and try and create new environmental ways to combat this issue.

Geological engineers may work with other engineers, scientists and technicians, pooling their expertise to solve problems. Since this field of engineering crosses with civil, environmental and other disciplines, it is advantageous for geological engineers to work with other engineers. For example, they may work with civil engineers in the design and construction of a bridge.

Geological engineers use traditional and high-tech tools, such as computer-aided design (CAD) systems to create realistic geometric models of objects which can simulate and analyze the effects and potential problems of designs such as machine malfunction and breakdown. They research and evaluate each project to find the most cost-effective solutions to problems while maintaining recognized standards.
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Median Annual Wage:

$36,720 in May 2010

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics


  Interests and Skills  
Geological engineers must have excellent communication and interpersonal skills because they constantly deal with technicians, scientists and business clients. They should have a natural aptitude for mathematics and science (especially chemistry and physics) and be able to visualize three-dimensional objects from two-dimensional drawings, which is not an easy task. They should be able to make quick, logical decisions, adapt from an office environment to a laboratory or construction site and be able to supervise and lead others.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Investigate the engineering feasibility of planned new developments involving soil, rock and groundwater
  • Plan and execute site investigations for proposed major engineering works such as bridges, dams and tunnels
  • Design measures to rectify land contamination and salination
  • Recommend improvements to foundations of civil engineering projects such as rock excavation, pressure grouting, rock slope stabilization and hydraulic channel erosion control
  • Design major structures in rock such as tunnels, basements and shafts
  • Plan, develop, coordinate and conduct theoretical and experimental studies in mining exploration, mine evaluation and feasibility studies relative to the mining industry
  • Conduct theoretical and applied study of groundwater flow and contamination and develop prescriptions for site selection, treatment and construction
  • Supervise the construction and performance of major engineering works involving the ground
  • Devise strategies to control landslides and areas of potential instability
  • Conduct surveys and studies of ore deposits, ore reserve calculations and mine design
  • Play a managerial role and coordinate multi-disciplinary study teams, staff recruitment and matters of work organization
  • Supervise technologists, technicians and other engineers and scientists
  • Perform computer analyses, use computer databases and generate computer-aided designs (CAD).
  • A typical day for a geological engineer will involve a lot of work outdoors to supervise and teach technicians and conduct investigations and surveys. There will be a small office component which will involve computer design work and research. Also, the job will include quite a bit of traveling, including the possibility of international travel. A general workweek is around 60 hours.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Geological engineers may work in both the public and private sectors. In private companies, they may be employed by consulting engineering companies, electrical utilities, geotechnical consultants, hydrogeological firms, environmental companies and mining and petroleum companies. In the public sector, they usually work for government departments of the environment and natural resources, or for educational or research institutions. Some geological engineers may also be self employed and own their own consulting engineering firms.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Experienced geological engineers may decide set up their own consulting businesses or pair up with mining, metallurgical and civil engineers to open up a large consulting firm that specializes in mining, metals and construction. They may also become construction contractors, business engineering analysts, geologists, move into a new speciality area of engineering or become teachers at a post-secondary institution, with additional education.

  Educational Paths  
While still in high school, if this is the career path you are interested in taking, make sure you take courses in mathematics and science. Most university programs would require these subject areas as prerequisites.

Geological engineers may require a bachelor's degree in geological engineering or in a related engineering field. Then, they must also become registered as a Professional Engineer (PEng) within an association of professional engineers to secure employment and practice in their field. Some engineers also get master's degrees in a specific area, such as mining engineering.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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