Geotechnical Engineering

Most engineering projects that come in contact with the earth require the expertise of geotechnical engineers. Typically, these projects include shallow and deep foundations for buildings, earth retaining structures such as basement walls and bridge abutments, road and railway construction, instabilities of hillsides and riverbanks, and engineered slopes such as earth dams, highway cuts, embankments, and dikes for flood protection.

In a larger sense, geotechnical engineering also includes a wide range of earth-related topics, for example, geoenvironmental engineering, geological engineering, rock mechanics, mining engineering, geosynthetics, ground improvement, hydrogeology, and engineering in cold regions. A career in geotechnical engineering offers opportunities to combine field exploration, laboratory studies, computer analysis, engineering design, and travel.


The geotechnical group is actively involved in laboratory testing, field-scale projects, and numerical modeling in topics that include soil mechanics and foundation engineering, geoenvironmental engineering, geosynthetics, soil-structure interaction, groundwater hydrogeology and contaminant transport, ground improvement, and unsaturated soil mechanics.

Current projects include numerical modeling and analysis of instrumented road embankments on peat and degraded permafrost, small-scale deformation analysis of synthetic ‘see-through’ clay using lasers, evaluation of the erosional properties of riverbanks on Lake Agassiz clay, the impact of soil deformation on buried pipelines, probabilistic slope stability modeling based on spatial variability of soil properties, and groundwater modeling of nitrogen transport processes. Recent projects include analysis of sandbag dike performance, evaluation of design methods for rockfill dams, a full-scale field test on the performance of rockfill columns, and geosynthetic-reinforced slopes and embankments.


The geotechnical laboratory supports small-scale physical modeling and tests for material properties. Equipment is available for grain size analysis, triaxial tests at high pressures and temperatures, hydraulic conductivity in flexible-wall cells with suction control, 1-D compression, direct shear (including tests in a large-scale direct shear/pull-out apparatus), thermal conductivity, and erosion measurement. Facilities are available for specialized testing involving biological and chemical composition in groundwater and soils. The laboratory houses two temperature-controlled chambers.

Professors in Geotechnical Engineering:
Dr. Marolo Alfaro, P.Eng.
Dr. James Blatz, P.Eng.
Dr. Pooneh Maghoul, P.Eng.
Dr. Allan Woodbury, P.Eng. (retired)
Dr. Jim Graham, P.Eng. (Professor Emeritus)
Dr. Hartmut Holländer

Professors and Technician in Geotechnical Engineering

Marolo Alfaro, PEng (Professor) – received a BSc in civil engineering (magna cum laude) from the University of Mindanao, Philippines, an MEng in geotechnical engineering from the Asian Institute of Technology, Thailand, and a PhD in civil engineering from Saga University, Japan. He received postdoctoral fellowships from the Royal Military College of Canada and the University of Calgary. He is a professional engineer specializing in geotechnical engineering. His research interests include: geosynthetics for civil engineering applications; ground improvement techniques; stabilization of natural and man-made slopes; northern infrastructure impacted by climate change; and cold regions engineering. He has published widely in technical journals and in conference proceedings. He co-authored a book on ground improvement techniques and a book chapter on geosynthetics. In 2007, he received recognition as runner-up for a ‘Best Paper’ published in Geosynthetics International Journal. In 2010, he was given the Balik-Scientist Program award by the Department of Science and Technology in the Philippines. 
        Marolo serves as Vice-President for Canada of the North American Geosynthetics Society, as Councillor of the International Association of Lowland Technology, and as Canadian representative to the Technical Committee on Ground Improvement of the International Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering. He is a member of several national and international professional societies.

James Blatz, PEng (Professor) - is a full Professor at the University of Manitoba. He graduated with a BSc in Civil Engineering and a PhD in Geotechnical Engineering both from the University of Manitoba. He spent a year undertaking an NSERC Post-Doctoral Fellowship studying alternative materials for bridge abutment stabilization at the GeoEngineering Center at Queen’s-RMC before taking up his faculty appointment at the University of Manitoba. James teaches courses in the area of geotechnical engineering, foundation engineering and landslide assessment. He currently conducts research for a number of private and public clients focusing on assessment management for Civil Engineering infrastructure, risk-based decision analysis for infrastructure planning as well as technical aspects of flood protection systems. 
        James is a Professional Engineer and has served on the board of the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of the Province of Manitoba since 2005. James serves on a number of other boards and committee for professional and technical societies both nationally and internationally. He also owns and operates his consulting practice providing specialist services to a number of firms in Winnipeg and abroad. He is the recipient of the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers 2006 Early achievement award and is the 2007 Canadian Geotechnical Society Colloquium speaker

Allan Woodbury, PEng (Professor) - is a retired Professor in the Department of Civil Engineering, Water Resources/Geotechnical Divisions, at the University of Manitoba. He graduated with a  BSc degree in Geophysics and has  MSc and PhD degrees  in earth sciences, all  from the University of British Columbia.
        Allan  has taught undergraduate and graduate water resources engineering and groundwater hydrogeology at McGill University and the University of Manitoba. He has established a productive research program in hydrogeology and has an extensive publication record in pioneering probabilistic methods, incorporating temperature measurements in hydrologic analysis, aquifer characterization, and the solution of ill-posed problems. Many of his works have been highly cited.  He has had numerous invitations for speaking at conferences and workshops. These include the American Geophysical Union, the National Ground Water Association and the Geological Society of America, as well as other universities and private organizations.
        Allan  has also served as an advisor to various governments, utilities, engineering companies and organizations such as AECL.  He has served as a specialist consultant to the Saskatchewan Government on potash and uranium tailings contamination and also to the Center for Nuclear Waste Regulatory Analysis in San Antonio, Texas, for work at the Yucca Mountain nuclear repository. The focus of his professional efforts is the role of groundwater in geotechnical, mining, environmental and water supply issues, particularly in a regulatory framework. These efforts involve investigations, assessment of remediation methods for contaminated waters and soils, water supply quality and quantity, engineering design, and the development and application of regulatory guidelines.

 Jim Graham, PEng (Emeritus Professor) - holds PhD and DSc degrees from Queen’s University, Belfast. He retired from the University of Manitoba in 2002 and is now involved on a part-time basis as Professor Emeritus. 
        He has published more than 200 articles on a wide range of subjects, mostly related to properties of clays. His research topics include effects of yielding, loading rates and time, temperature, incomplete saturation, chemical change, and hydraulic conductivity. Other work includes slope instabilities and embankment performance. He was formerly President and Secretary General of the Canadian Geotechnical Society and Scientific Editor of the Canadian Geotechnical Journal. 
        His contributions have been recognized by the Legget Medal from the Canadian Geotechnical Society; a Fellowship, Stirling Medal and K.Y. Lo Medal from the Engineering Institute of Canada; the Medal for Distinction in Engineering Education from Engineers Canada; and the Saunderson Award for Excellence in Teaching from the University of Manitoba.

Kerry Lynch (Technician) - is a graduate of the Structural Engineering Technology option in Civil Engineering  Technology from Red River Community College. This training and his experience from working at Manitoba Department of Highways and Transportation (now known as Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation) has proven to be a considerable asset in completing the many diverse and demanding technical duties in the geotechnical laboratories at the University of Manitoba. While managing the geotechnical laboratory, Kerry is also involved with teaching and assistance of undergraduate labs and supporting undergraduate projects as well as graduate research.