A day in the life of a Geoenvironmental Engineer

Lottie Harold MCIWEM tells us about a typical day as a Geoenvironmental Engineer at Arup

Lottie has worked for Arup for four years and started her career as a Graduate Geoenvironmental Engineer at Jacobs.

What does a typical day look like?

I split my time between the office and the site, where I am currently overseeing a large earthworks and remediation project.

In the office, my core tasks include developing conceptual models of sites, analysing soil, groundwater and ground gas data, and completing contamination risk assessments of sites to inform ground investigation and remediation design. I attend multi-disciplinary meetings to collaborate with project managers, other disciplines, and clients on the ground-related risks and opportunities.

My site roles include overseeing ground investigations and earthworks, to ensure that work is undertaken under the specification and correct data is obtained. I have also been involved in site walkovers to assess the opportunities to install ground-source heat pump systems.

Tell us about your team

I work within the ground engineering team at Arup, composed of geoenvironmental engineers, geotechnical engineers, engineering geologists, and hydrogeologists. The team's specialisms are diverse meaning we can collaborate on challenges to find the most effective solution.

What is the purpose of your role?

I provide solutions to redevelop brownfield sites into useful and sustainable spaces and reduce the impact of harmful contaminants whilst providing options for renewable energy.

Tell us about a recent project

For the last few years, I’ve been working on a large urban regeneration project in Manchester that historically contained rail infrastructure and gasworks. This has involved the supervision and analysis of several rounds of ground investigation and detailed quantitative risk assessment (DQRA) to obtain remediation targets for contaminants of concern.

My current site role involves overseeing the earthworks, including testing soils to ascertain their suitability for reuse (dependent on contaminant concentration) and tracking material movement across the site.

At the end of the project, I will produce a verification report to demonstrate that contamination has been managed effectively in line with planning conditions set by the council and Environment Agency.

What do you love about your role?

I enjoy the variety of the work I complete, from redeveloping large brownfield sites, rail upgrades, flood defence schemes, and environmental impact assessments, to investigating the ground energy potential of sites for low-carbon heating and cooling systems.

I have had the opportunity to develop creative solutions to unique problems across a range of scenarios and have enjoyed writing programmes to automate calculations, making work less repetitive and prone to human error. I also benefit from working on-site as it gives real-world context to the analytical work completed beforehand.

What challenges do you face?

One challenge affecting the sector is the emergence of the contaminant group, PFAS, which is becoming an increasing concern to clients and regulators, due to PFAS's high mobility and persistence. As this is a developing field, no UK human health soil standards currently exist.

I undertook a research project to develop in-house assessment criteria based on the toxicological and physical-chemical parameters of these compounds. These criteria will be used to screen data from the field to guide future remediation strategies on projects.

What skills do you need for your role?

Geoenvironmental engineers need to have the ability to bring together information from many sources and use analytical thinking to build a clear understanding of the project’s issues.

Once the problem is defined, we need to develop and evaluate options, accounting for legislation, stakeholders, health and safety, and sustainability. It is important to be a team player to understand and manage differing requirements.

I usually have multiple projects on the go, and therefore it is vital to manage my time effectively to meet several different and concurrent deadlines.

Communication skills are required to build relationships with clients, regulators and contractors, and a high level of professionalism is needed, particularly on-site when overseeing ground investigations which can be disruptive for landowners and the public.

What would you say to someone wanting to do your role?

Actively seek out and ask for opportunities! If you’re looking for work, asking someone to act as a mentor can be very beneficial, from chatting through options, looking over applications, or providing you with contacts to get your foot in the door.

Once at work, seek out opportunities outside of your daily tasks including training, research, presenting, and external committees.

This article was first published on Thursday 19 June 2024.

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