World's Longest Tunnel – My Contribution

The BBC are reporting details of the World’s longest tunnel being constructed underneath the Alps. I probably had a (very small) part in its construction.

As an undergraduate geology student in the early 80s I did my independent mapping dissertation in Lukmanierpass in southern Switzerland. During the mapping I met a Swiss geologist who was conducting a regional scale survey of the whole area with a view to determine the regional geology for a new deep level tunnel under the Gotthard Massif. After I completed my degree I learned that the Swiss had requested a copy of my mapping dissertation (along with those of the two guys I went out with who mapped adjacent areas). I know that from writing the ‘literature review’ section for my thesis that very little was known about the detailed structure of my mapping area and it would be nice to think that some of my undergraduate work contributed to the geological knowledge for the tunnel’s construction.

I know that I found thin slivers of Mesozoic cover that could be projected down to great depth between the granite massifs. This would correspond to the ‘serious geological problems’ where the rock is ‘as soft as butter’ as mentioned in the article.

It would be nice to think that the six weeks I spent mapping in the Swiss Alps – that really did change my life – was not entirely an academic exercise.