Dust and highway safety in the Southern Plains of the US

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Junran Jimmy Li, University of Tulsa, Tulsa, OK, United States
The hazard of blowing dust to highway safety represents one of the significant impacts of aeolian processes on human welfare. In the Southern Plains of the US, dust related chain-reaction traffic accidents occurred every year, however, no known studies have specifically investigated this issue in New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. The lack of this critical information hinders highway authorities to make informed and timely management decisions when wind events strike. Projected global changes, including changes in climate, land use, and land cover, will likely bring more frequent and extreme dust emissions to the southwestern US, including a majority of the Southern Plains, posing a serious threat to transportation safety in this region in the coming decades. In this study, we use remotely sensed and in situ measurements of land cover, soil, and vegetation data to quantitatively assess the spatial and temporal patterns of wind erosion hot spots that contribute blowing dust to the highways of New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. We focus on interstate highways where investment in surveillance and warning devices is greatest, and where high traffic volumes and speeds make the threat of blowing dust most hazardous. Our preliminary investigation in west Texas indicated that a majority of the sources that contribute dust to the highways are located on sandy surface within a few kilometers of the highways and more than half of them are from cultivated cropland.