What is the Difference between Geoenvironmental and Geotechnical Engineering?

What is the Difference between Geoenvironmental and Geotechnical Engineering?
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Discovering the difference between geotechnical engineering and geoenvironmental engineering takes a bit of research. Both fields have names based on the common word “geo,” which means “earth” according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary. This shows that the study of the earth has wide coverage. However, we want to differentiate between geotechnical and geoenvironmental engineering. So, what’s the difference? Let’s find out.

Geotechnical Fabric

One classic example where geotechnical and geoenvironmental engineering are being fused is in the use of geotechnical fabric. These are woven or unwoven materials specially designed to prevent soil erosion to protect the environment as a result of either manmade or natural disasters. The use of it is cost effective.

Image: Flickr, Pam Broviak, Geotechnical Fabric

Difference between Geotechnical Engineering and Geoenvironmental Engineering

Further speculation based on word formation suggests that geotechnical engineering would deal with earth-related technical study while geoenvironmental engineering would mean earth-related environmental study. But can we further clarify this? What do these terms mean? To dig deeper, some credible research needs to be done.

One answer comes from MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Their Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (an engineering school cited by U.S. News & World Report as the top engineering school in the US for 2010), provides a clear distinction between the two engineering fields. (Initially, it’s worth mentioning that both fields are cited under the Department of Civil and Environment Engineering at MIT.)

Geotechnical engineering is focused mainly on using a combination of knowledge plus methods in solving geoengineering problems, while geoenvironmental engineering goes a little further to include how to mitigate and assess natural hazards, the resolution of waste contamination, containment, remediation, and the like. Under geotechnical engineering, geoengineering problems typically include mechanics, computational analysis, experimental methods, geomaterials, etc.

If one wishes to pursue advanced studies, one can access an integration of both fields with a Master’s in Engineering (track - Geotechnology) at MIT.

Other than MIT, another credible source that could provide valuable input is the United States Department of Transportation - Federal Highway Administration. There are a lot of recent updates, and you could find it very helpful especially to those who are doing research or doing business with the FHWA. (To learn more, follow the links below.)

In conclusion, geotechnical and geoenvironmental engineering may not be the most exciting fields to pursue, but if you are thinking about monetary rewards, long term employment, and potential business opportunity, they could be worth a try. One thing that always stands out as a valuable asset is land. Real properties increase their value through time, especially if you add value to them by cultivating the land or adding infrastructure. Regardless of how you develop the land, one should not forget the environmental part of it- that being most often the part neglected. It’s always easy to say that it’s not yet too late, but with good planning and the resolution of geoenvironmental and geoengineering problems done in a timely manner and well taken care of, definitely, businesses will thrive and mother earth will be protected.


MIT - Master of Engineering Track - Geotechnology

US Department of Transportation - Federal Highway Administration - Geotechnical Engineering

Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary - combining form “geo”