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Geotechnics & engineering geology

Geotechnical engineering combines elements of earth science, construction and mining. Tunneling projects, slope stabilization or site investigations are typical areas of application.

Cut-and-cover tunnel of the AlpTransit in Amsteg
Rapidly through the Gotthard: cut-and-cover tunnel of the AlpTransit AG in Erstfeld
© AlpTransit Gotthard AG


Applications of Geotechnics 

If there is to be building underground, people who are familiar with the mechanical properties of the ground or rocks are deployed: No Gotthard railway tunnel without specialists from the field of geotechnics or engineering geology!

Examples of typical geotechnics or engineering geology applications:

  • From simple geotechnical site investigations for the construction of a single-family detached home, through to highly complex geotechnical investigations
  • Tunnel construction
  • Construction of a landfill site or a radioactive waste repository
  • Slope stabilization
  • Dam construction
  • Rockfall barriers
  • Construction and maintenance of mines and quarries

Earlier usage of the term “geotechnics”

"Geotechnics" was previously widely understood in the sense of "Technology in the geological sciences"; therefore, older geotechnical work would today more likely be placed in the field of technical mineralogy. The term "Geotechnics” has become a common institutional expression in the universities. Previously, the designation of the individual discipline was used, such as earthworks and foundation engineering, soil mechanics, rock mechanics, rock and tunnel construction, thoroughfare construction, hydraulic engineering etc.

You will find more details on applied geotechnics here.

Drilling and blasting in the KWO Handeck-Gerstenegg access tunnel
Drilling and blasting in the KWO Handeck-Gerstenegg access tunnel, loading the blast holes in the Central Aare Granite: geotechnicians and geologists are right there at the front when kilometer-long tunnel systems are driven into the rock for the generation of hydroelectricity.
© Kellerhals+Haefeli AG, Bern

Who is who

Geotechnical engineering is taught in Switzerland at universities. These also participate in major projects. Otherwise, mostly private geology and engineering bureaus which are specialized in geotechnics, carry out the work.  

Website (English)

The Institute for Geotechnical Engineering deals with soil and rock mechanics, clay minerals, geotechnical engineering and geo-environmental engineering. The institute is responsible for teaching and research, has highly specialized laboratories and field equipment at their disposal and offers various services.


The group for Engineering Geology is part of the Geological Institute of ETH Zürich. It researches the hydraulic and mechanical processes in fractured rock masses. The studies do not remain mere pure research, but are implemented daily in the fields of tunneling, natural hazards, geothermal energy or the sustainable use of groundwater.


Website (French und English)

The Laboratory of Engineering and Environmental Geology is part of the School of Architecture, Civil and Environmental Engineering ENAC (Faculté de l'environnement naturel, architectural et construit ENAC). It sets priorities in the natural resources of groundwater and geothermal energy, as well as in natural hazards, groundwater contamination and tunneling.



The Geozentrum Burgdorf is a collaboration between the Bern University of Applied Science
(department Architecture, Wood and Civil Engineering) and the Institute of Geological Sciences of the University of Bern. The laboratories of the Geocenter for Geotechnics and Engineering Geology support the teaching and research activities of both institutions and carry out a variety of material tests.


The institute is part of the Department for Environment Construction and Design of the University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Southern Switzerland (SUPSI). It deals with the management and protection of the environment and its resources. Its areas of expertise include geology, geotechnics, hydrology, hydrogeology and geomatics.


Several federal agencies and cantonal authorities provide the public and private sector with basic geotechnical data: groundwater data, borehole profiles and other types of data can be obtained online at the respective cantonal offices for the environment.


The Swiss Geological Survey

The Swiss Geological Survey collects and archives unpublished geological documents, digital data (e.g., from seismic recordings) and samples (in particular drillhole samples) useful for national geological investigation. It makes this geological information available professionally.




Cantonal Centers

For example, on many cantonal web portals, groundwater data, borehole profiles and much more may be obtained. Map viewer of the cantons


Swiss Geotechnical Commission (SGTK)

The SGTK (now the Georesources Switzerland Group), since its foundation in 1899, has been compiling documentation, reports, databases and maps in the field of geotechnics in Switzerland:

Fundamentals of Geology

ETH Zurich Department of Earth Sciences
Georesources Switzerland Group
NO F35
Sonneggstrasse 5
CH-8092 Zurich
+41 44 632 37 28


Geotechnical Map of Switzerland 1:200'000

Mineral resources (simplified) 1:500000