There’s so much talk these days about infrastructure, and rightly so after years of neglecting our roads, bridges, and foundations. However, we shouldn’t overlook the “infrastructure that supports the infrastructure,” namely the Earth itself, including its surface and subsurface. Its where we construct and improve highways, bridges, and tunnels, dig our foundations and build our homes, stores, and factories, construct our sidewalks, obtain a large percentage of our water supplies, dispose of our wastes, bury our pipelines, grow our food, mine for critical and all other minerals, sequester our carbon dioxide, and obtain sand, gravel, and stone for concrete. However, when we speak of infrastructure, rarely is it within this context, and we pay a price for this omission.
It is the Earth itself that has a direct impact on site planning and development for infrastructure, most notably (1) ground (foundation) conditions and ease of excavation, (2) water resource and contamination issues, and (3) Earth hazards (slope stability, subsidence, collapsible/swelling soils, liquefaction, erosion, deposition, flooding, sinkholes, earthquakes, etc.). These, in turn, all impact facility and construction siting issues, costing, engineering considerations, and eventual construction activities and overall infrastructure development/redevelopment.
Prior knowledge of site conditions (Earth’s surface/subsurface) can reduce liabilities during infrastructure activities, and in future years through infrastructure maintenance. This knowledge (1) helps reduce over- and under-bidding on projects, (2) reduces overall project delays and associated costs, and (3) helps develop mitigation strategies to reduce/eliminate/avoid potential problems and problem areas and to take advantage of suitable land areas for infrastructure development and improvements. When “what lies beneath” is revealed, concerted effort can commence to balance sustainable resource-based land-use planning with economic development. Knowledge of the Earth’s surface/subsurface provides a scientific basis for this decision making and reduces future liabilities.
In addition, climate change is a real threat to infrastructure and economic development, including having adequate water supplies and environmental protection. The sooner that we recognize the threat and begin developing infrastructure mitigation strategies and planning for new development, the better. (I'll address climate change in more detail on the blog in the future.)
These issues are addressed by the Illinois State Geological Survey through detailed mapping and modeling that increase our understanding of the Earth, particularly at the local level while working with land and resource planners, health departments, economic development agencies, and the public. Very importantly, the U.S. Geological Survey, working with state geological surveys, has developed national plans for seamless maps and models that portray this needed information for infrastructure development and many other uses, and then make it available at no cost to industry and the public.
The ISGS maintains considerable information in its online Geospatial Data Clearinghouse that directly supports Illinois’ infrastructure including aquifer maps, sinkhole regions, bedrock and glacial deposits, historical aerial photography, LiDAR, mine locations, logs from water wells and oil wells, and much more.
Video highlights ISGS energy, coastal, and mapping work
A short video produced for the Geological Society of America meeting in October 2021 highlights some of the work ISGS is doing in the areas of sustainable energy and carbon management, understanding Lake Michigan coastal issues, and mapping. Watch the video.
If you have a geoscience/geology question, or have a specimen of a rock, mineral, or fossil that you'd like to share, Ask the State Geologist!