What is a Geological Engineering Degree?

Geological engineers carry out technical studies to evaluate the physical landscapes where dams, mines, roads, railways, pipelines, forestry, and other operations that involve extracting natural resources are planned. They provide solutions related to land reclamation, air and water pollution, potential landslides and earthquakes, and environmental sustainability.

Students of geological engineering learn how to apply knowledge of earth materials and earth sciences to human problems and projects. Their areas of study span geology, chemistry, physics and mechanics, calculus, soil mechanics, solid mechanics, mineralogy, rock mechanics, landforms, groundwater hydrology, and engineering law and ethics.

Program Options

Note: It is important to select a geological engineering training program that is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).

Bachelor’s Degree in Geological Engineering – Four Year Duration
This is the most common credential held in the profession. Bachelor’s degree programs in geological engineering consist of both traditional classroom study and laboratory and field work.

Here is an overview of the typical undergraduate curriculum:

  • Introduction to Engineering – engineer roles and responsibilities, engineering disciplines, the engineering design process, scientific principles, prototyping, engineering graphics, engineering technical communication, engineering ethics
  • Chemistry for Engineering – chemical bonding, properties of matter, chemical thermodynamics, processes at surfaces
  • Differential Calculus – applications of differential calculus to physical sciences and engineering, derivatives of elementary functions, modeling, graphing, optimization
  • Introductory Physics for Engineers – heat, thermodynamics, oscillations, waves, and sound
  • Mechanics – statics of particles, equilibrium of rigid bodies, rigid body statics and internal forces, trusses; kinematics: rectilinear motion; dynamics: Newton’s Second Law, friction, impulse, momentum, work, and energy
  • Technical Communication – oral and written communication in engineering, report writing, business correspondence, oral presentation of technical material
  • Soil Mechanics – soil classification, principle of effective stress, analysis of seepage, filter criteria, shear strength, slope stability analysis
  • Computational Methods in Geological Engineering – generating computational models; building blocks in modeling, simulation, and parameter estimation
  • Solid Mechanics I – deflection of beams, combined axial load and bending moment, inelastic bending, plastic analysis of structures, beam-columns, buckling (stability), principal axes and principal moments of inertia, biaxial stress and strain, Mohr’s Circle
  • Introduction to Petrology – optical mineralogy and the classification and genesis of igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks
  • Rock Mechanics Fundamentals – lab and field study of the mechanical and structural properties of rock materials; applications to mining, geological, and civil engineering problems
  • Principles of Geomorphology – landform development, morphological and historical analysis of landforms, applications in engineering and resource development
  • Solid Mechanics II – one-dimensional compression and stress-strain response of soils with reference to estimating the settlements and capacities of foundations and retaining walls
  • Hydrology and Open Channel Flow – open channel hydraulics, engineering hydrology, and water resource systems, estimation of design discharge, flood statistics, non-uniform steady open channel flow, energy and momentum principles, backwater analysis, culvert and bridge hydraulics
  • Groundwater Hydrology – groundwater flow, flow nets, regional groundwater resource evaluation, well hydraulics, the role of groundwater in geologic processes
  • Geological Engineering Practice: Soil Engineering – application of geomorphology, hydrogeology, and soil mechanics to geotechnical design; geotechnical hazard and risk assessments
  • Professionalism and Law in Civil Engineering – examination of The Engineers and Geoscientists Act; ethics, conflicts of interest, health and safety, sustainable development, design and construction contracts, labor and employment law, dispute resolution, legal liability
  • Foundation Engineering – geotechnical engineering design considerations, site investigation, terrain analyses, in situ testing, groundwater and other problems
  • Environmental, Geotechnical, and Exploration Geophysics – principles pf geophysical survey, design, data acquisition, processing, and interpretation
  • Engineering Design Project – based on an industry problem, geological engineering design project from scope definition to final design

Master’s Degree in Geological Engineering – One to Two Year Duration
Doctoral Degree in Geological Engineering – Two Year Duration
Master’s and doctoral degree programs in geological engineering are research-intensive. Students’ coursework is focused in specialized subjects. At the master’s level, schools may offer a thesis or non-thesis track, or both. At the doctoral level, a dissertation and oral defense are required. Potential areas of geological research include:

  • Atmospheric Sciences
  • Earthquake Geology / Volcano Seismology
  • Economic Geology of Petroleum, Coal, and Mineral Resources
  • Geomorphology and Glacial Geology
  • Geophysics and Tectonics
  • Geotechnical / Geomechanics
  • Geoscience Education
  • Groundwater / Hydrology
  • Hydrogeology and Environmental Geology
  • Karst Hydrology & Geology
  • Mineralogy
  • Mining Engineering
  • Natural Hazard Mitigation
  • Paleomagnetism / Rock and Mineral Magnetism
  • Petroleum Geology and Geophysics
  • Petrology and Geochemistry
  • Remote Sensing
  • Sedimentology / Stratigraphy
  • Volcanology

Degrees Similar to Geological Engineering

Geology, also known as geoscience and Earth science, is the study of the Earth. Students of the discipline learn about the processes that act upon the Earth, such as floods, landslides, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions; the materials of which the Earth is made, such as water, oil, metals, and rocks; and the history, evolution, and past climates of the Earth.

A degree in architecture will appeal to individuals who have an interest in and appreciation for both the sciences and the arts. This is because architecture is itself the art and science of designing and engineering structures and buildings. It is a field with a foundation in creativity, technology, and social and cultural trends.

Civil Engineering
This degree field is focused on the processes of design and planning of civil infrastructure like roads, tunnels, bridges, dams, railroads, and airports. In their work, civil engineers are concerned with such things as how much weight a structure can support and the environmental issues presented by construction. The emphasis of civil engineering degree programs is math, statistics, engineering systems and mechanics, building codes, and statistical analysis.

Engineering Physics
Students of engineering physics, also referred to as applied physics, learn how to use physics to solve practical problems. For this reason, the field is sometimes referred to as the bridge between physics and engineering. Coursework includes computational physics, materials science, thermodynamics, and nanotechnology.

Environmental Engineering
This branch of engineering is concerned with finding solutions to environmental problems. Degree programs in the field prepare students to work as environmental engineers, who develop plans to prevent and control air and water pollution, improve recycling and waste disposal, and advance public health.

Environmental Science
The basis of this discipline is that all natural things interact. Individuals who earn a degree in environmental science develop plans to prevent, control, or find solutions to environmental issues, such as pollution.

Students of geography study the earth’s surface; its climate, soil, and water; and the relationship between people and the land. Some typical courses in a geography program are cartography, climatology, geology, political geography, statistics, and spatial analysis.

Hydrology is about the active nature of water, the movement of precipitation. Hydrologists study surface waters like rivers, lakes, and streams and examine how rainfall and snowfall cause erosion, generate caves, and permeate soil and rock to become groundwater or flow to oceans and seas. Students of hydrology study these and other aspects of the field. They learn about water management methods, land use, environmental issues, and how to collect water data, interpret statistics, conduct computer modeling, and use geographic information systems (GIS) and the global positioning system (GPS).

Mechanical Engineering
Students of mechanical engineering learn how to research, design, develop, and test mechanical and thermal devices, including tools, sensors, engines, and machines. These devices serve many industries, including the aerospace, medical, energy, and manufacturing sectors. In addition to coursework in engineering and design, degree programs in the field include classes in mathematics, life sciences, and physical sciences.

Natural Resource Management
Natural resource management is about finding ways to sustain the Earth’s resources in the face of the growing human population. Majors in this discipline are typically passionate about clean water, clean energy, and clean environments. They study in the classroom, in the computer lab, and in the field and learn how to apply scientific and ecological knowledge, as well as economic and social awareness to find solutions to preserving our natural world.

Petroleum Engineering
Degree programs in petroleum engineering teach students how to find and safely and environmentally remove petroleum and natural gas from the earth.

Soil Science
Soil science degree programs are focused on the formation, ecology, and classification of soil. Students take courses in seed science, fertilizers, geology, weed science, and genetics.

Skills You’ll Learn

The study of geological engineering develops diverse skills and insights that can be applied in other fields as well:

  • Ability to work both independently and as part of a team
  • Advanced math and science skills – geological engineers consistently use calculus and trigonometry principles in their analysis and design work
  • Observation, logical thinking, problem-solving, and decision making – planning mine operations, mineral processing, and environmental reclamation and restoration are all complex projects
  • Field skills / comfortable working outdoors
  • GIS (geographic information systems) and GPS (global positioning system) software
  • Global perspective
  • IT skills / computer modeling
  • Physical stamina
  • Presenting information both orally and in written form
  • Project Management
  • Research, data collection, analysis, and record keeping
  • Understanding of maps and graphs
  • Using statistical applications

What Can You Do with a Geological Engineering Degree?

Because of the specific nature of geological engineering, most graduates of the discipline work in roles that are directly related to their degree. Here are some of the common occupational categories:

  • Academic Research and Teaching
  • Civil Engineering and Construction – specifically, in rock stability and soil foundations consultancy roles on tunnel, bridge, and high-rise projects
  • Energy / Oil and Gas – safe and sustainable natural resource exploration (oil, gas, uranium, tar sands, geothermal, and coal)
  • Forestry – assessing the landscapes where forestry operations are planned
  • Governmental and Non-governmental Environmental Protection Agencies and Research Agencies
  • Groundwater / Water Resources Management – working with industries and farms that need water sources; consulting on dam construction, well drilling, and dike design
  • Land Use Planning – working with regional and urban planning departments
  • Mining Exploration and Evaluation – discovery of new sources of ore and other metallic mineral deposits, which are essential to the construction and transportation industries
  • Risk Assessment – guarding against earthquakes, landslides, permafrost, swamps, bogs, and environmental risks
  • Transportation – determining strong terrain and safe routes for airports, railways, highways, and pipelines
  • Waste / Landfill Management – identifying safer ways to dispose of toxic chemicals and garbage and to manage sewage

Regardless of the sector in which they work, geological engineers find themselves conducting data acquisition, analysis, and mapping and preparing recommendations and reports.


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