Keynote Lectures

While we are committed to keeping this schedule the same, rooms and times may be subject to change please check the final schedule on site.
Professor of Geotechnical Engineering, School of Civil and Building Engineering, Loughborough University, UK

School of Civil and Building Engineering, Loughborough University, United Kingdom


Our planet is experiencing unprecedented change: Population is increasing, resources are being depleted and the climate is changing. The global challenge is to provide an acceptable standard of living for all without using up natural resources and causing irreparable damage to the planet’s climate. The new United Nations program Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development came into effect in January 2016. This establishes 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which will guide the decisions taken by nations and organizations over the next 15 years. These include: ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all; building resilient infrastructure to promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization; making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable; and ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns. Each country and region faces specific challenges in pursuit of sustainable development. A key driver for changing behaviour is climate change. At the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, Paris, a global agreement by 196 parties was made to set a goal of limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial level by controlling anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. The next stage is for the agreement to be made legally binding by countries in April 2016 and for the development, dissemination and adoption of practices that deliver sustainable development.

Against this backdrop of international agreements and goals, the geosynthetics industry has the potential to play a prominent role in providing solutions that help to deliver the vision of global sustainable development. The lecture will discuss the drivers for change in the way infrastructure is delivered and will challenge the geosynthetics industry to play a key role in reducing carbon emissions and dealing with the consequence of climate change. As an example, it will detail a framework for calculating embodied carbon of construction solutions that incorporate geosynthetics and in comparison to other solutions, and highlight the common pitfalls of such analyses.

Neil Dixon is Professor of Geotechnical Engineering in the School of Civil and Building Engineering at Loughborough University, UK, and he is academic leader for the cross University research challenge of Changing Environments and Infrastructure. He has been a university academic for over 25 years and has 34 years of experience in geotechnical engineering research and practice. He has authored over 150 refereed publications in the areas of geosynthetic applications, sustainable construction, landfill barrier design guidance, slope failure mechanisms, pore-water pressure regimes in slopes, in situ measurement of soil/waste properties, slope stability assessment, instrumentation development, slope process modelling and impacts of climate change. Professor Dixon played a leading role in the development of UK practice in waste containment system design through co-authoring the Environment Agency (England and Wales) reports on landfill stability, which are the basis for the current stability risk assessment permitting procedure. He has acted as a consultant on review of stability risk assessment permit applications and as a legal expert witness. Professor Dixon was an elected Council Member of the International Geosynthetics Society for 8 years and is a past Chairman of the International Geosynthetics Society, UK Chapter. Professor Dixon currently leads development of the acoustic emission landslide monitoring method using Slope ALARMS sensors. He heads the UK Climate Impact Forecasting For Slopes (CLIFFS) Network, is part of the Infrastructure Slopes: Sustainable Management and Resilience Assessment (iSMART) UK research consortia, and was a member of the Future Resilient Transport Networks (FUTURENET) project team. Professor Dixon has been awarded multiple prizes for publications and innovation


Robert KoernerDR. ROBERT M KOERNER, P.E.
Emeritus Professor of Civil Engineering at Drexel University and Director Emeritus of GSI

by Robert M. Koerner, Y. Grace Hsuan and George R. Koerner

A most frequently asked question regarding all types of geosynthetics is, “How long will they last?” This presentation answers the question for exposed geotextiles and geomembranes assuming that they were properly designed and installed. Furthermore, it compares these new results to earlier lifetime prediction results on a covered geomembrane.

The nonexposed or covered conditions have been evaluated and published on a 1.5 mm thick high density polyethylene (HDPE) geomembrane. It used landfill incubation cells at four elevated temperatures of 85, 75, 65 and 55°C so as to reach 50% of retained strength and elongation. Considering depletion of antioxidants, induction time, and 50% reduction in mechanical properties the lifetime extrapolation was made down to 20°C. The halflife for this geomembrane under these conditions is approximately 500 years! Since the incubation times took 10 years, other covered geosynthetics were not evaluated under the supposition that the nonexposed situation is generally a moot point for most geosynthetics in their customary applications.

For exposed geosynthetics, however, the situation is quite different. Ultraviolet radiation, elevated temperature and full oxygen are available which shortens the service lifetime, but how much? For evaluation of this situation we utilized laboratory ultraviolet fluorescent tube weathering devices per ASTM D7238 for incubation purposes. Seven different geotextiles and five different geomembranes were evaluated. Each have been incubated at 80, 70 and 60°C until 50% reduction of strength and elongation occurred. The data was then extrapolated down to 20°C for laboratory halflife values and for comparison with the nonexposed condition. The ratio of nonexposed to exposed lifetime for HDPE geomembranes is approximately 5.0. The calculations for the twelve exposed geosynthetics then progressed to using site-specific radiation so as to obtain an equivalent field life. Phoenix, Arizona conditions are illustrated although the procedure is applicable worldwide. Halflife results for the geotextiles vary from a few months for the needle punched nonwovens to up to 10-years for monofilaments and high antioxidant formulated products. Results for geomembranes vary from 47 to 97 years with HDPE being the highest. These results (which took 12-years and are still ongoing) are most interesting and are presented for the first time to an international audience.

Dr. Koerner’s interest in geosynthetics spans 40+ years of teaching, research, writing and consulting. Dr. Koerner is a registered Professional Engineer in Pennsylvania, an Honorary Member of ASCE, and a member of the U. S. National Academy of Engineering. He has authored and co-authored 700+ papers on geosynthetics and geotechnical topics for international journals and conferences. He published the first textbook on geosynthetics, and he is the author of the widely used publication Designing with Geosynthetics, which is now in its sixth edition and which has been translated into five languages.



Dale MorrisNathalie Olijslager-Jaarsma

Senior Economic Advisor at the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Washington, DC.

Consul General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Miami


Few natural resources are as vital and as volatile as water. The Dutch understand this challenge and have developed an integrated approach to water management that has made them global leaders in flood control. With one quarter of its area under sea level, the Netherlands is especially vulnerable to water threats posed by climate change. Out of necessity, the Dutch are leaders in adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change through innovative and proactive solutions.

As the global go-to partner in times of water-related crises, this keynote lecture will focus on:

  • The Netherlands’ integrated approach to water management which combines water safety, provision and infrastructure to control floods and build eco-dynamically
  • Global trends on coastal resiliency and infrastructure in the face of sea level rise
  • Projected coast line changes in the Americas over the next 20 years
  • The Dutch experience with sea level rise and climate change in South Florida
Dale Morris directs the Dutch Government’s Water Management efforts in the United States, in particular in Louisiana, Florida, Texas, California,and Virginia. This work is focused on broad “sustainability” topics: flood protection and flood risk mitigation, coastal and floodplain restoration, ecosystem resiliency, urban adaptation, urban water management, and landscape design for risk reduction and environmental/public amenity. Morris is a co-director of Dutch Dialogues, member of various water-management advisory boards and steering committees in New Orleans and Washington.

Morris also provides analyses of US macro-economic developments, monitors US fiscal and monetary policy, US federal budget, tax and appropriations policies, and is a long-standing member of the Embassy’s Pension Advisory Board and its Ethics Board. Morris previously served as Legislative Director and Press Secretary to two Members of the U.S. Congress, served in the US Air Force, is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Virginia and is an avid motorcyclist, hockey fan, and white-water junkie.

Nathalie Olijslager-Jaarsma started her career in the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the Department for European and Economic Cooperation after receiving her MA in International Economic Relations from Leiden University. She also attended Beloit College in Wisconsin as a one-year Fulbright scholar. After a term at headquarters she headed to Pretoria, South Africa as Deputy Head of the Economic Section, where she was involved in the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. In 2003 her next assignment took her to the Dutch Embassy in Budapest, Hungary, where she was appointed Head of the Economic Section. From 2007-2010, Nathalie was employed at the Ministry of Economic Affairs as Senior Policy Advisor at the Department for International Business and was the account manager for multinationals like Unilever, Heineken and Akzo Nobel. Before being appointed Consul General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Miami, she was Head of Business Environment and Market Development at the Department for Sustainable Economic Development at the Netherlands Ministry in The Hague. Nathalie is married to Jan Paul; they have two children.




2015/2016 Mercer Lecture

The stabilization of pavement system involves placing a geosynthetic at the bottom or within the pavement base course in order to increase its load-carrying capacity. The base mechanical properties are improved because of the lateral restraint induced by the geosynthetic by minimizing deformations of the unbound granular material. There is clear evidence that geosynthetic stabilization has led to an increased design life of pavements for a given base thickness as well as to a decreased base course thickness for a given pavement design life. In addition, geosynthetic stabilization has been observed to result in significantly improved performance for pavements founded on problematic soils (e.g. on expansive clay subgrades).

The Mercer Lecture is a biennial lecture sponsored by Tensar International, with the endorsement of the International Society for Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering (ISSMGE) and the International Geosynthetics Society (IGS).

Significant advances are being made towards identifying and quantifying the parameters that govern the stabilization of paved roads. This lecture provides an overview and discussion of current methodologies used in the design of geosynthetic-stabilized pavement systems. An overview is also presented of experimental, analytical and field monitoring evaluations that have been conducted to evaluate the geosynthetic stabilization function. The confined stiffness of the soil-geosynthetic composite under small displacements is identified as a parameter that provides good basis for the design of geosynthetic-stabilized pavements. Proper quantification of the parameters governing the behavior of geosynthetic-stabilized pavements is expected to trigger a significant increase in the adoption of geosynthetic stabilization of paved roads.

The Mercer Lecture series was established in 1992 to provide individuals who have made significant technical contributions to the advancement of geosynthetics the opportunity to present their work at international conferences around the world. The key objective of the lecture is to help promote the co-operation of information exchange between the geotechnical engineering profession and the geosynthetics industry by giving an eminent professor the opportunity to undertake a lecture tour on the subject of Geosynthetics in Geotechnical Engineering.

These lectures honour the late Dr Brian Mercer, the inventor of geogrids and a strong advocate for innovation, research, and development.

Dr. Zornberg is Professor and William J. Murray, Jr. Fellow in the Geotechnical Engineering program at the University of Texas at Austin. He has 25+ years of experience in research and practice in geotechnical, geosynthetics, and geoenvironmental engineering. He is a recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE, 2002), the J. James R. Croes Medal from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE, 2012), the CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF, 2001), and multiple Best Paper awards from various international engineering journals. He serves as Immediate Past President of the International Geosynthetics Society (IGS).