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Rock testing, characterization and monitoring and future trends : Highlighting the ISRM SMs

Rocks have been used as a construction material since the down of civilization and different structures have been built in or on rocks. There are many historical remains related to rocks from various civilizations all over the world. Mankind also built underground structures in the past, and some examples can be still found in different parts of the World. However, it is quite arguable who were the pioneers of mechanical laws governing solids and fluids and their testing and monitoring techniques in view of huge engineered structures related to rock built in different parts of the World and some of which were built more than thousands years ago with a high precision of modern days.

The term “rock mechanics” refers to the basic science of mechanics applied to rocks. The application of mechanics on a large scale to a pre-stressed, naturally occurring material is the main factor distinguishing rock mechanics from other engineering disciplines. The subject of rock mechanics started in the 1950s from a rock physics base and gradually became a discipline in its own right during the 1960s. Rock mechanics was born as a new discipline in 1962 in Salzburg, Austria, mainly by the efforts of Professor Leopold Müller and he officially endorsed at the first congress of the ISRM in 1966. The term “rock engineering” refers to any engineering activity involving rocks, in other words, or the use of rock mechanics in rock engineering within the context of civil, mining and petroleum engineering such as dams, rock slopes, tunnels, caverns, hydroelectric schemes, mines, building foundations etc. Site investigations and laboratory and field tests provide important inputs for rock modelling and rock engineering design approaches. Therefore, determination of rock properties both in the laboratory and field, and monitoring of rock behaviour and rock structures, provide some of the main important areas of interest in rock mechanics and rock engineering, which are commonly applied to engineering for civil, mining and petroleum purposes.

After the formal development of rock mechanics, better understanding of its importance in engineering practice, increasing demands from rock engineering studies and rapid advances in technology resulted in development of a number of laboratory testing and site characterization methods. In addition, recognition of the fact that laboratory test results from a small specimen of rock cannot be directly applied to solve all rock engineering problems (unlike the case of soils), attentions have been focused on the development of in-situ tests and monitoring techniques in rock mechanics. After the establishment of the ISRM Commission on Testing Methods in 1966, a number of laboratory and field testing methods to be used in rock engineering were developed and/or improved with the efforts of the Commission, its Working Groups and cooperation among other ISRM Commissions, based on the previous experiences and new developments in technology.

In this keynote, first test method and importance of standardization of rock testing methods are introduced within the context of the ISRM Suggested Methods (SMs). Next the emphasis is given on providing brief information about the general principles followed in developing the ISRM SMs, the stages followed in their evaluation and recent progresses related to the ISRM SMs. Then some practical implementations and contractual issues of the ISRM SMs, and finally, current developments and future needs/trends in rock testing and monitoring methods are briefly discussed.

It is concluded that in terms of experimental rock mechanics, site characterization and monitoring, the followings seem as the most popular areas of interest and are the main sources for the development of new ISRM SMs:  rock Dynamics, characterization and testing methods for soft rocks and bimrocks, petroleum geomechanics, non-destructive testing methods, non-contact methods such as 3-D laser scanning techniques in rock engineering, photogrammetry etc., rock mechanics at great depths and associated test methods, SMs to be used in excavatability and borability studies, providing guidelines for laboratory procedures to detect damage thresholds, and new and/or upgraded methods to assess rate of degradation and be used in preservation of cultural assets and extra-terrestrial rock mechanics. In addition, the greater integration (i.e. integrating engineering with geophysics, engineering geology, microcosmic) can drive research to greater levels in rock mechanics.


ReşatUlusay, born in 1952 in İzmir (Turkey), obtained BSc and MSc degrees on engineering geology from the Geological Engineering Department at Hacettepe University (HU) in 1975 and PhD degree from the Middle East Technical University (METU) in 1991, Ankara, Turkey, respectively.His main research activities are concentrated on engineering geology, rock mechanics and soil mechanics; particularly on slope stability, rock mass characterization and classification, laboratory and in-situ geomechanical testing, geo-engineering at historical sites, earthquake-induced ground deformations, attenuation relationships and swelling.Between 1975 and 1996, he worked at the Mineral Research and Exploration Institute (MTA) of Turkey and was trained on mining geotechnology by Golder and Hoek Associates in UK and assigned to establish the Rock and Soil Mechanics Division and Laboratories under the auspices of the UN. During this period, he was involved in a number of geotechnical projects as engineer/manager, Division Chief and Deputy Head of the Department. He became Associate Professor in 1994. Between December 1995 and 1 September 2019 he worked at the Applied Geology Division of the Geological Engineering Department at HU. He became full Professor in 2000. He has also been a part-time instructor in METU between 1992 and 2015. He supervised a number of MSc and PhD theses and retired on 1 September 2019.

He is the author and/or co-author of about 300 papers, four technical books (Turkish) on rock mechanics and geotechnics, two dictionaries on geo-engineering and rock mechanics, and the Co-editor and Editor of the ISRM Blue Book and Orange Book, respectively. He is the Editor-in-Chief of “Bulletin of Engineering Geology & the Environment” and the Ex-Officio Executive Committee Member of the International Association of Engineering Geology (IAEG) since January 2019. He is the President of ISRM Commission on Testing Methods, member of ISRM Design Methodology Commission and ISRM Fellow since 2006, 2008 and 2015, respectively. He presented 8th ISRM Online Lecture. “2016 Hans Cloos Medal” of IAEG was conferred to Prof. Ulusay for his contribution to the development of engineering geology. He also acted as President of the Turkish Society of Engineering Geology and member of Turkish Earthquake Advisory Board.