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2024/25 Taught Postgraduate Module Catalogue

CIVE5160M Geotechnical Investigation and Characterisation

30 creditsClass Size: 40

Module manager: Dr Ana Heitor

Taught: Semesters 1 & 2 (Sep to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2024/25

This module is not approved as an Elective

Module summary

This Module aims to develop students ability to characterize the ground for engineering purposes and develop various types of geological and geotechnical models. Students will be able synthesis and evaluate methods used in the field and/or laboratory as part of a site investigation to contribute towards planning and design. They will be able to identify the importance of the laboratory and field aspects to a ground investigation and elucidate how this contributes to a geotechnical project. They will be able to appreciate how their skills could be used in the applied engineering geology, geotechnical and construction environment. The students will develop transferable skills from the laboratory and desk based work, these include interactive and group skills, data recording, communication skills, planning and management, problem solving, research skills, thinking in 3D, and industrial style report writing.


The module is designed to run over two semesters to introduce and develop the key laboratory, and technical skills required by a practicing geotechnical engineer. The module will aim to develop the students:

1. Ability to develop conceptual geotechnical models in ground engineering in their broadest concept and to demonstrate how such models can be used to guide site investigation for geotechnical design;
2. Ability to show how multiple datasets can be combined to provide a model of the ground that can be used to manage ground risk;
3. Ability to develop and plan field and laboratory investigations;
4. Ability to report results in an effective and concise reporting style;
5. Ability to work effectively and safely in a laboratory either independently or a part of a group;
6. Understanding of the significance and importance laboratory and field investigations will have on determining the engineering characteristics of the ground for construction;
7. Understanding of the distinction between soil, rock-masses and intact rock material properties, as characterised in the field and laboratory.

Learning outcomes
Upon completion of the module students will have:

1. Apply a comprehensive knowledge of mathematics, geological and engineering principles and methodology necessary to develop complex ground models and select characteristic geotechnical properties for design from in situ and laboratory test results (AHEP 4 Learning Outcome M1);

2. An ability to formulate and analyse complex problems in the context of a geotechnical laboratory schedule to support the selection of geotechnical design parameters using laboratory test results and engineering judgment in cases where information may be uncertain or incomplete while discussing the limitations of the techniques/tests employed (AHEP 4 Learning Outcome M2);

3. An ability to apply and integrate knowledge and understanding of geology and engineering geology to support study of the geotechnical characterisation of a site and the ability to evaluate them critically and to apply them effectively;

4. Apply engineering principles and critical analysis of key engineering processes to solve complex problems in the context of development of a site investigation campaign and laboratory testing program. (AHEP 4 Learning Outcome M1);

5. An ability to extract and evaluate pertinent data and to apply engineering analysis techniques in the solution of unfamiliar problems;

6. An ability to investigate and define the problem, identifying any constraints including environmental and sustainability limitations; ethical, health, safety, security and risk issues; codes of practice and standards in context of a site investigation campaign and laboratory testing program (AHEP 4 Learning Outcome M5 and M7);

7. An ability to work with information that may be incomplete or uncertain, quantify the effect of this on the design and, where appropriate, use theory or experimental research to mitigate deficiencies (AHEP 4 Learning Outcome M2);

8. Knowledge and understanding of risk issues, including health and safety, and environmental risk, risk assessment and risk management techniques in the context of geotechnical laboratory test and site investigation (AHEP 4 Learning Outcome M5);

9. An ability to use and apply relevant practical and laboratory skills to investigate a complex problem and derive appropriate parameters to support geotechnical design. (AHEP 4 Learning Outcome M12);

10. An ability to work with technical uncertainty;

11. An understanding of different roles within an engineering team and function effectively as an individual and as a member or leader of the team while evaluating their own and team performance (AHEP 4 Learning Outcome M16);

12. An ability to monitor and adjust a personal programme of work on an on-going basis;

This module contributes to the AHEP4 learning outcomes M1, M2, M5, M7, M12 and M16.

Skills outcomes
The ability to design a ground investigation to produce a ground model;
The ability to interpret a ground investigation to produce a ground model;
The ability to produce geotechnical design parameters.


a). The ability to plan time, prioritise tasks and organise academic and personal commitments effectively while working in a group to complete a range of geotechnical laboratory tests;

b). The ability to recognise and express knowledge and understanding and how it relates to personal experience and to demonstrate learning and growth from the experience (e.g. lessons learned).


c). The ability to find, evaluate, organise and share information across a variety of formats, ensuring the reliability and integrity both of the sources used;

d). The ability to communicate and collaborate constructively and professionally with peers through a variety of digital tools and networks in order to share laboratory data and resources, and to engage in online dialogue and discussion;

e). The ability to use digital technology and techniques to create digital items (spreadsheets and graphs to derive geotechnical engineering parameters), and the willingness to engage with new practices and perspectives to solve problems, make decisions and answer questions.

Work ready:

f). The ability to prioritise, work efficiently and productively and to manage your time well in order to meet deadlines;

g). The ability to take a logical approach to solving problems; resolving  issues by tackling from different angles, using both analytical and numerical skills. The ability to understand, interpret, analyse and  manipulate analytical and numerical data.


h). The ability to search for, evaluate and use appropriate and relevant information sources to help strengthen the quality of academic work and independent research.


- The geological model: data sources and guidelines for construction;
- Displaying geological data: conceptual models and reference conditions;
- Developing ground models from geological models;
- Geological processes that modify the ground;
- Quaternary climate change and weathering;
- Desk study data for geological models: historical maps;
- Aerial photography and remote sensing;
- Uses of shallow geophysics in ground investigation;
- Site investigation practice;
- Advancing boreholes and design of site investigations;
- Methods of drilling and boring;
- In situ monitoring and in situ testing, monitoring groundwater;
- Geotechnical engineering soil laboratory tests standards and procedure, analysis of results and discussion of test limitations. Tests covered include: index and classification, permeability, shear strength and stiffness;
- Selection of appropriate testing conditions (e.g. loading ranges, water contents) to solve a complex geotechnical problem;
- Producing baseline, factual and interpretative reports.

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Class tests, exams and assessment12.002.00
Private study hours210.00
Total Contact hours90.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)300.00

Private study

Writing up assessed practical work (formative and summative): Graphical display of geological model; Site Investigation Design; Writing up/proof reading laboratory practical group report, each individual; Producing baseline, factual and interpretive reports, Development of characteristic design properties.

Reading reference material associated with lectures and revising for exam.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Short, weekly on line tests are used by students to assess their understanding of basic principles which they should be familiar with:
- The coursework includes a formative submission to help students understand what is expected of them;
- Workshop style tutorials that underpin the practical work will allow debate to take place to assess student knowledge and understanding and provide feedback.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
ReportBaseline and interpretative report including design parameter selection30.00
PracticalLaboratory Test Report20.00
In-course MCQWeekly formative test in-class0.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)50.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt (50% Coursework and 50% Exam), unless otherwise stated.

Exam typeExam duration% of formal assessment
Online Time-Limited assessment2 hr 00 mins50.00
Total percentage (Assessment Exams)50.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 29/04/2024 16:12:17


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