Can I start by asking you why geology is so important to the discipline of civil engineering?
Well that’s fairly easy, I used to say this to my students, “You’re a civil engineer, not an aeronautical engineer and consequently every single thing you build sits on the ground. Therefore, you need to know something about the ground, to make sure your building’s going to stay up or your structure’s going to stay where you think it should.” It’s as simple as that really isn’t it. The geology underpins it all - there are so many puns we could use here!
The book has an unusual format, each chapter is a double-page spread. Can you tell me why you decided to write it in this format?
Because it was accessible. It started off as a series of lecture notes and the lecture notes were one or two pages; they were condensed into that, and then one lecture became a spread, and that’s it. And then the idea. Actually let’s give credit here to where it should be, to the publishers Mitchell Beazley and Hugh Johnson who wrote the Atlas of Wine. It was a huge seller; they had a winner with it. And it was because, instead of being a great stream of text, eight chapters all on European wines or whatever it might be, it was all done in blocks and pieces and bite-size chunks. So I suppose really the idea came from that, beyond that I just developed it into the format you’ve got here. And it seemed to work.
The current edition is the third edition of The Foundations of Engineering Geology, can you summarize what has changed or been updated for this edition?
Well, how much has changed? Funnily enough you know, engineering geology doesn’t change a lot, the rocks are still the same as they were ten years ago! I suppose the one place where there’s been significant change is in the whole bit on site investigation and how an engineer approaches the problems of what there is in the ground. The biggest change has been the sources of information, with our wonderful friend the web And of course we’ve got new data in places and we’ve got new examples in, a few new case studies, and things which have happened more recently which are more fun.
How did you get into engineering geology as a discipline and what have the highlights of your career been?
Well I got into engineering geology by default, because I started off in mining. Then the decline of the mining industry, in Britain in particular (we’re talking now about some years ago), meant that there was less demand for mining geologists and at the same time the demand for civil engineering geologists was increasing considerably. So I shifted disciplines within the university and got more into this side. I’ve always been into the applied side. I’ve never been a theoretical man. I like the practical bit, the nuts and bolts. It’s either where is the mineral deposit, why is it there. Or where is the hole in the ground and why is it there - if you’re building on top of it.
DID YOU KNOW … ?
Tony Waltham’s favorite section of the book to write was … Well that has to be, number 29, the bit on limestone, for a totally trivial reason - that is limestone has got caves in it (and) I’ve been a caver for many years.
So, as a geologist, I have seen more of the inside of the ground than quite a lot of other geologiststhrough the UK.