Serving professionals in engineering, environmental, and groundwater geology
since 1957




SPEAKER: Dr. Chester F. (Skip) Watts
TITLE: Rockslides: Case Histories and Common Misconceptions


Potential hazards from rock falls and rockslides are on the rise as land development reaches into previously untouched areas, as aging highways and railroads require upgrades and new construction, and as people throng to public lands for recreation. At the same time, new generations of decision makers in the forms of politicians, administrators, land use planners, architects, engineers, and even geologists, continue to emerge who don't understand or recognize some of the most fundamental principles of mass wasting. And in recent years, numerous misconceptions regarding some fundamental principles have proved resistant to eradication.

Dramatic examples are to be found across the country. Case histories will be presented for consideration, including spectacular rockslides in Yosemite National Park, Virginia's Smart Road technology test bed, Thomas Jefferson's Natural Bridge of Virginia, highway stability in North Carolina, and weapons testing facilities in the west. Each case is compelling and contentious. Some are expensive and some are tragic.

Recurring misconceptions include the relative merits of constructing vertical slopes versus angled slopes, the roles of discontinuities in controlling rockslides, the direction of groundwater flow in fractured rock, the volumes of water necessary to trigger slides, and the variable nature of earth materials. These concepts are simple but not to be ignored.


Dr. Watts is the 2003 Richard H. Jahns Distinguished Lecturer, named jointly by the Association of Engineering Geologists and the Engineering Geology Division of the Geological Society of America. A certified professional geologist in the Commonwealth of Virginia, Skip is the Dalton Distinguished Professor of Geology at Radford University, where he has worked since 1984. There he established the Institute for Engineering Geosciences and has taught undergraduate and

Skip is also the author of ROCKPACK III computer software, used internationally for analyzing the safety and stability of mines, quarries, highway cuts, mountain slopes, buildings, and bridge foundations. He serves as a rock slope stability consultant to numerous highway departments, federal agencies, and engineering firms.

Skip is the recipient of several regional and national teaching awards, including the 1998 Outstanding Professor Award from the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia. He appeared in a television documentary called SLIDE! on The Learning Channel as well as on National Public Radio, by cell phone, while rock climbing during a rockslide study in Yosemite National Park.

Skip served 14 months on Senator Joseph Lieberman's personal staff as the 2001-2002 GSA/USGS Congressional Science Fellow. During that time came the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., the anthrax attacks and closure of the Hart Senate Office Building, and the war in Afghanistan with inevitable geologic factors at play. Also during that time came congressional debates over drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the disposal of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, and preparations for the great reauthorization of national transportation funding in 2003. In his alternate Jahns lecture Watts describes his personal experiences as a senate "staffer" and the important political geologic issues of the day.