Home / Sub-disciplines of Civil Engineering
It is traditionally broken into several sub-disciplines including environmental engineering, geotechnical engineering, geophysics, geodesy, control engineering, structural engineering, transportation engineering, earth science, atmospheric sciences, municipal or urban engineering, water resources engineering, materials engineering, offshore engineering, quantity surveying, coastal engineering, surveying, and construction engineering.
In general, civil engineering is concerned with the overall interface of human created fixed projects with the greater world. General civil engineers work closely with surveyors and specialized civil engineers to fit and serve fixed projects within their given site, community and terrain by designing grading, drainage, pavement, water supply, sewer service, electric and communications supply, and land divisions. General engineers spend much of their time visiting project sites, developing community consensus, and preparing construction plans. General civil engineering is also referred to as site engineering, a branch of civil engineering that primarily focuses on converting a tract of land from one usage to another. Civil engineers typically apply the principles of geotechnical engineering, structural engineering, environmental engineering, transportation engineering and construction engineering to residential, commercial, industrial and public works projects of all sizes and levels of construction.
One of the major aspects of Civil engineering is materials science. Material engineering deals with ceramics such as concrete, mix asphalt concrete, strong metals such as aluminum and steel, and polymers such as polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA) and carbon fibers.
Materials engineering also consists of protection and prevention like paints and finishes. Alloying is another aspect of materials engineering, combining two types of metals to produce a stronger metal. It incorporates elements of applied physics and chemistry. With significant media attention focused on nanoscience and nanotechnology in recent years, materials science has been propelled to the forefront at many universities. It is also an important part of forensic engineering and failure analysis. Materials science also deals with fundamental properties and characteristics of materials.
Coastal engineering is concerned with managing coastal areas. In some jurisdictions the terms sea defense and coastal protection are used to mean, respectively, defense against flooding and erosion. The term coastal defense is the more traditional term, but coastal management has become more popular as the field has expanded to include techniques that allow erosion to claim land.
Construction engineering involves planning and execution of the designs from transportation, site development, hydraulic, environmental, structural and geotechnical engineers. As construction firms tend to have higher business risk than other types of civil engineering firms, many construction engineers tend to take on a role that is more business-like in nature: drafting and reviewing contracts, evaluating logistical operations, and closely monitoring prices of necessary supplies.
Snapshot from shake-table video of testing base-isolated (right) and regular (left) building model.
Earthquake engineering covers ability of various structures to withstand hazardous earthquake exposures at the sites of their particular location.
Earthquake engineering is a sub discipline of the broader category of Structural engineering. The main objectives of earthquake engineering are:
Environmental engineering deals with the treatment of chemical, biological, and/or thermal waste, the purification of water and air, and the remediation of contaminated sites, due to prior waste disposal or accidental contamination. Among the topics covered by environmental engineering are pollutant transport, water purification, waste water treatment, air pollution, solid waste treatment and hazardous waste management. Environmental engineers can be involved with pollution reduction, green engineering, and industrial ecology. Environmental engineering also deals with the gathering of information on the environmental consequences of proposed actions and the assessment of effects of proposed actions for the purpose of assisting society and policy makers in the decision making process.
Environmental engineering is the contemporary term for sanitary engineering, though sanitary engineering traditionally had not included much of the hazardous waste management and environmental remediation work covered by the term environmental engineering. Some other terms in use are public health engineering and environmental health engineering.
Geotechnical engineering is an area of civil engineering concerned with the rock and soil that support civil engineering systems. Knowledge from the fields of geology, material science and testing, mechanics, and hydraulics are applied by geotechnical engineers to safely and economically design foundations, retaining walls, and similar structures. Environmental concerns in relation to groundwater and waste disposal have spawned a new area of study called geo-environmental engineering where biology and chemistry are important.
Some of the unique difficulties of geotechnical engineering are the result of the variability and properties of soil. Boundary conditions are often well defined in other branches of civil engineering, but with soil, clearly defining these conditions can be impossible. The material properties and behavior of soil are also difficult to predict due to the variability of soil and limited investigation. This contrasts with the relatively well defined material properties of steel and concrete used in other areas of civil engineering. Soil mechanics, which describes the behavior of soil, is also complicated because soils exhibit nonlinear (stress-dependent) strength, stiffness, and dilatancy (volume change associated with application of shear stress).
Water resources engineering is concerned with the collection and management of water (as a natural resource). As a discipline it therefore combines hydrology, environmental science, meteorology, geology, conservation, and resource management. This area of civil engineering relates to the prediction and management of both the quality and the quantity of water in both underground (aquifers) and above ground (lakes, rivers, and streams) resources. Water resource engineers analyze and model very small to very large areas of the earth to predict the amount and content of water as it flows into, through, or out of a facility. Although the actual design of the facility may be left to other engineers.
Hydraulic engineering is concerned with the flow and conveyance of fluids, principally water. This area of civil engineering is intimately related to the design of pipelines, water supply network, drainage facilities (including bridges, dams, channels, culverts, levees, storm sewers), and canals. Hydraulic engineers design these facilities using the concepts of fluid pressure, fluid statics, fluid dynamics, and hydraulics, among others.
Structural engineering is concerned with the structural design and structural analysis of buildings, bridges, towers, flyovers (overpasses), tunnels, off shore structures like oil and gas fields in the sea, aerostructure and other structures. This involves identifying the loads which act upon a structure and the forces and stresses which arise within that structure due to those loads, and then designing the structure to successfully support and resist those loads. The loads can be self weight of the structures, other dead load, live loads, moving (wheel) load, wind load, earthquake load, load from temperature change etc. The structural engineer must design structures to be safe for their users and to successfully fulfill the function they are designed for (to be serviceable). Due to the nature of some loading conditions, sub-disciplines within structural engineering have emerged, including wind engineering and earthquake engineering.
Design considerations will include strength, stiffness, and stability of the structure when subjected to loads which may be static, such as furniture or self-weight, or dynamic, such as wind, seismic, crowd or vehicle loads, or transitory, such as temporary construction loads or impact. Other considerations include cost, constructability, safety, aesthetics and sustainability.
Surveying is the process by which a surveyor measures certain dimensions that generally occur on the surface of the Earth. Surveying equipment, such as levels and theodolites, are used for accurate measurement of angular deviation, horizontal, vertical and slope distances. With computerization, electronic distance measurement (EDM), total stations, GPS surveying and laser scanning have supplemented (and to a large extent supplanted) the traditional optical instruments. This information is crucial to convert the data into a graphical representation of the Earth's surface, in the form of a map. This information is then used by civil engineers, contractors and even realtors to design from, build on, and trade, respectively. Elements of a building or structure must be correctly sized and positioned in relation to each other and to site boundaries and adjacent structures. Although surveying is a distinct profession with separate qualifications and licensing arrangements, civil engineers are trained in the basics of surveying and mapping, as well as geographic information systems. Surveyors may also lay out the routes of railways, tramway tracks, highways, roads, pipelines and streets as well as position other infrastructures, such as harbors, before construction.
Surveying is considered as a distinct profession. Land surveyors are not considered to be engineers, and have their own professional associations and licencing requirements. The services of a licenced land surveyor are generally required for boundary surveys (to establish the boundaries of a parcel using its legal description) and subdivision plans (a plot or map based on a survey of a parcel of land, with boundary lines drawn inside the larger parcel to indicate the creation of new boundary lines and roads), both of which are generally referred to as cadastral surveying.
Construction surveying is generally performed by specialized technicians. Unlike land surveyors, the resulting plan does not have legal status. Construction surveyors perform the following tasks:
Transportation engineering is concerned with moving people and goods efficiently, safely, and in a manner conducive to a vibrant community. This involves specifying, designing, constructing, and maintaining transportation infrastructure which includes streets, canals, highways, rail systems, airports, ports, and mass transit. It includes areas such as transportation design, transportation planning, traffic engineering, some aspects of urban engineering, queueing theory, pavement engineering, Intelligent Transportation System (ITS), and infrastructure management.
Municipal engineering is concerned with municipal infrastructure. This involves specifying, designing, constructing, and maintaining streets, sidewalks, water supply networks, sewers, street lighting, municipal solid waste management and disposal, storage depots for various bulk materials used for maintenance and public works (salt, sand, etc.), public parks and bicycle paths. In the case of underground utility networks, it may also include the civil portion (conduits and access chambers) of the local distribution networks of electrical and telecommunications services. It can also include the optimizing of waste collection and bus service networks. Some of these disciplines overlap with other civil engineering specialties, however municipal engineering focuses on the coordination of these infrastructure networks and services, as they are often built simultaneously, and managed by the same municipal authority.
Control engineering or control systems engineering is the branch of Civil Engineering discipline that applies control theory to design systems with desired behaviors. The practice uses sensors to measure the output performance of the device being controlled (often a vehicle) and those measurements can be used to give feedback to the input actuators that can make corrections toward desired performance. When a device is designed to perform without the need of human inputs for correction it is called automatic control (such as cruise control for regulating a car's speed). Multi-disciplinary in nature, control systems engineering activities focus on implementation of control systems mainly derived by mathematical modeling of systems of a diverse range. For the purpose of offshore oil drilling various types of offshore platforms are constructed by Civil engineers.