Geotechnical Assets—things like rock and soil slopes, bridge foundations, shore protection, embankments, retaining walls, and others structures literally touch or impact every other physical asset within Alaska’s transportation system. As such, Geotechnical Asset Management (GAM) has become one piece of the broader movement toward Transportation Asset Management in Alaska, and two AUTC researchers have been central to this effort.
To gain a foundation in GAM, ADOT&PF engineers need more scientific research to better grasp how factors like soil stability impact infrastructure. Unstable soils, thawing permafrost, and other subsurface dynamics cause geotechnical assets to lose their integrity, leading to landslides and structural failure.Margaret Darrow, assistant professor of Geological Engineering at UAF, brings two unique resources to this endeavor. First, her research focuses on frozen ground engineering, frost heave, unfrozen water in frozen soil, and slope stability in frozen ground. Secondly, she has professional experience in this subject that includes working for ADOT&PF’s Northern Region Materials Section—geographical and topical knowledge she has brought to five different AUTC projects on frozen ground interaction with highway embankments.
Credit: Courtesy Andrew Metzger
Andrew Metzger, assistant professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UAF, installs equipment on a pier structure in one of many maritime infrastructure research projects.
She is currently working on a study using automated instruments to measure ground movement near infrastructure. Titled “Evaluating In-Place Inclinometer Strings in Cold Regions,” the study uses automated in-place inclinometer strings (AIMIS) to measure vertical and horizontal ground movement in an effort to monitor slope instability, which can be applied to existing and newly constructed embankments. AIMIS have not previously been employed in cold regions; Darrow’s work will provide meaningful feedback to ADOT&PF about deploying these instruments in the future.
In a similar project, Darrow is examining how road embankments are impacted by instability associated with warming and thawing permafrost. Titled “Impact of Groundwater Flow on Permafrost Degradation and Transportation Infrastructure Stability,” this study investigates the interactions among groundwater flow, permafrost degradation, and embankment stability.
Last month, Darrow completed a project entitled “A Study of Unstable Soil Slopes in Permafrost Areas: Alaskan Case Studies Used as a Training Tool.” Assisting planners and engineers at ADOT&PF’s Northern Region, she created a multi-media training presentation that assesses three of their problem slope areas and suggests possible mitigation approaches. She also provided a comprehensive review of existing research on slope stability in permafrost regions, highlighting successful and unsuccessful techniques.
Credit: Courtesy Margaret Darrow
Margaret Darrow, assistant professor of Geological Engineering at UAF, installs ground deformation monitoring equipment near a road embankment.
In another area of significance to Alaska’s GAM efforts, Andrew Metzger, assistant professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UAF, is leading a team aimed at providing ADOT&PF with an implementation ‘road map’ for GAM. They are developing a framework for addressing GAM-related challenges that can be integrated with other asset management systems.
To do this, the team will facilitate dialogue on Alaska’s geotechnical assets with the Transportation Commissioner, his deputies, members of Alaska’s TAM Executive Oversight Committee, and each regional director to help define geotechnical assets and assist with implementation. They will highlight key challenge areas, such as maintenance performance, unpredictable service life, financial accounting complexities, and other common obstacles to managing geotechnical assets. Currently, Metzger is working with ADOT&PF counterparts to conduct a series of discussions with department stakeholders for feedback on this effort.
Looking into the future of GAM in Alaska, Metzger is leading a new Marine North research program at INE. As Alaska’s arctic maritime infrastructure becomes an increasingly important national topic, decision-makers are drawing on his expertise in this area. Metzger recently spoke at a Fairbanks gathering of the American Society of Civil Engineers and gave an invited presentation at the U.S. Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard last July.
This story is from the AUTC V. 5 No. 2 newsletter.