Virginia Tech civil engineers seek to optimize the use of underground space
April 3, 2006
According to one reviewer, the 1984 film Amadeus is arguably the best motion picture ever made about the process of creation and the creator, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. So, in some ways, the idea that Marte Gutierrez wanted to submit an engineering proposal about an innovative and largely untapped technical area under the acronym AMADEUS makes perfect sense. Hopefully, this work will be hailed as pioneering in the underground world as Amadeus was to the entertainment industry.
Gutierrez, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech, and his colleagues are looking to use the various components of the comprehensive field of information technology (IT) to improve the process of geologic mapping, analysis, design and construction of underground space.
“If we can develop a full fledged process for monitoring and modeling underground excavation using IT, we should be able to significantly lower the cost of construction and improve worker safety,” says Gutierrez.
Most underground excavations are conducted to meet traditional needs, ranging from mining operations to tunnels and underground caverns. Gutierrez believes the expanding world population will accelerate the demand for various types of underground construction. New civilian and military needs, ranging from unique designs for underground sporting arenas to storing various types of waste materials, are under consideration.
The National Science Foundation agreed with the idea to develop project AMADEUS (Adaptive Real-Time Geologic Mapping, Analysis and Design of Underground Space) , and funded the Virginia Tech project two years ago with a $1.1 million grant under NSF’s Information Technology Research (ITR) program. Gutierrez and his colleagues, Joseph Dove, a research assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, Matthew Mauldon, also an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, Doug Bowman, assistant professor of computer science, and Erik Westman, assistant professor of mining and minerals engineering, and five Ph.D. students have spent their first two project years developing the models and techniques required to build the IT-based tunneling system.
One tool that was completed was an automated field gathering system that they hope will replace manual and paper-based field data collection. Their system has the ability to process data statistically to produce a general qualitative description for a site. With “modern technological advances such as the Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs), we can gather and store information quickly. Today’s PDAs have enough computing power and storage capabilities to compete with portable computers of a few years ago, allowing us to do continuous data updating. This information on underground excavation is paramount when design and construction are coupled with the use of the observational method,” Gutierrez noted.
Work on the project continues on the development of digital imaging and computer tomography systems for geological characterization and excavation monitoring, advanced geologic geomechanical models, and a virtual reality system that will enable users to walk inside virtual models of underground excavations before they are constructed.
The AMADEUS team is using the Kimballton Mine located in Giles County, Va., for some of its research work. Kimballton Mine, operated by Chemical Lime Corporation, is unique since it already has large caverns to a depth of 7500 feet and is located in sedimentary rock. Underground lab facilities could be developed in rock formations that have strengths comparable to that of granite. Kimballton also offers the engineers a place to study hydrocarbon recovery, carbon sequestration, groundwater flow, and the geomechanics of layered rock under high stress. It also provides insight into earthquake hazards because of its proximity to east coast and mid-America seismic zones.
In addition to work at Kimballton, the interdisciplinary AMADEUS team has completed a case study of the Shimizu Tunnel No. 3 in Japan. Since the twin tunnel was excavated in a region consisting mainly of soft weathered sandstone, Japan used an experimental sequential tunneling technique. The Virginia Tech team used its analysis of the effects of tunneling in fractured and compared these results with the measured field data. This study indicates that results from numerical modeling techniques are indeed comparable to the monitored data.