Biological Considerations in Geotechnical Engineering

by James K. Mitchell, J. Carlos Santamarina
Year: 2005


Mitchell, J. K. and Santamarina, J. C. (2005). "Biological Considerations in Geotechnical Engineering." ASCE Journal of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Engineering, Vol. 131, No. 10, pp. 1222-1233


The understanding of soil behavior during the last 300 years has centered on mechanical principles, geological processes, and later on, mineralogy and the relevance of colloidal chemistry. More recently, research in biology and earth science has enabled important advances in understanding the crucial involvement of microorganisms in the evolution of the earth, their ubiquitous presence in near surface soils and rocks, and their participation in mediating and facilitating most geochemical reactions. Yet, the effect of biological activity on soil mechanical behavior remains largely underexplored in the geotechnical field. The purposes of this paper are to introduce microbiological concepts, identify and illustrate their potential roles in soils and rocks, and stimulate interest in seeking improved understanding of their importance and potential for advancing the states of knowledge and practice in geotechnical engineering. It is shown that microorganisms play an important part on the formation of many fine grained soils, can alter the behavior of coarse grained soils (including hydraulic conductivity, diffusion and strength), accelerate geochemical reactions by orders of magnitude, promote both weathering and aging, and alter the chemical and mechanical properties of specimens after sampling. While extensive research is needed to delineate the full impact of biomass and biomediated reactions on soil behavior, it is anticipated that a proper understanding of biological principles will lead to improved soil characterization, enhanced understanding of soil behavior, and even alternative geotechnical engineering solutions.


Geotechnical engineering Biomass Soil chemistry Organic matter