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ARS Home » Plains Area » Fort Collins, Colorado » Center for Agricultural Resources Research » Rangeland Resources & Systems Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #360109

Research Project: Improved Management to Balance Production and Conservation in Great Plains Rangelands

Location: Rangeland Resources & Systems Research

Title: Assessing the acute safety hazard to highway transportation from blowing dust at Lordsburg Playa, New Mexico

Author
item GILL, THOMAS - University Of Texas
item DUBOIS, DAVE - New Mexico State University
item ELBEDINGIL, LYASU - University Of Texas
item FUENTES, JAYLEN - New Mexico State University
item LI, LIXIN - University Of Texas
item LI, JUNRAN - University Of Tulsa
item MENENDEZ, MARCOS - University Of Texas
item Tatarko, John
item Van Pelt, Robert - Scott
item WEBB, NICHOLAS - New Mexico State University

Submitted to: Meeting Abstract
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: 11/15/2018
Publication Date: N/A
Citation: N/A

Interpretive Summary: Blowing dust is not only a health risk from respiratory exposure, it is also a hazard to highway traffic and represents a significant safety concern for transportation. In the desert Southwest, thick clouds of dust crossing roads can cause sudden loss of visibility and distract drivers. This type of hazard is severe where Interstate 10 crosses Lordsburg Playa, a typically-dry lake bed in southwest New Mexico, the site of more than 10 dust-related traffic fatalities in 2017 alone. The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), New Mexico State University (NMSU), and their State and Federal collaborators are working to understand the causes and risks of the dust hazard at Lordsburg Playa. Together, we aim to better predict exposures to travelers, highway workers and public safety officials, and support dust control at the site. UTEP is measuring the susceptibility of different surfaces of the playa to windblown dust emission, the dustiness of near-roadway and on-playa sediment, the effect of emissions on the playa environment, and the potential health hazard of dust mixed with auto emissions and mining-derived metals. NMSU is utilizing long-term observations from a network of time-lapse cameras to catalog dust storms to help understand their nature, as well as assess changes in dust concentrations before and after pilot dust control efforts along the highway under a wide variety of weather, visibility, soil, blowing sand, and monitoring instruments. Both institutions are analyzing short-term weather and long-term climate data using satellite imagery to understanding of the dust sources and their meteorological drivers. Both groups will use a variety of mathematical models to forecast dust hazards on the playa and along the highway, and possibly develop a dust early warning system. The USDA Agricultural Research Service uses portable instrumentation to assess fine dust potential from natural and human-disturbed regions of the playa, and is in the process of locating one of its permanent National Wind Erosion Research Network sites on the playa to assess the impacts of wind-eroded dust. New Mexico Department of Transportation plans to add more weather stations and a real-time messaging sign over the next year to warn travelers. A challenge to all these groups is the complex patchwork of land ownership and management in the area, in some cases limiting access to research sites. These projects provide a scientific basis to inform transportation stakeholders of the safety and health hazard posed by extreme dust concentrations from Lordsburg Playa and improve understanding of near highway dust exposures elsewhere.

Technical Abstract: In addition to chronic health impacts from respiratory exposure to particulate matter near highways, in dry regions blowing dust and sand’s hazard to highway traffic represents a significant environmental, health and safety concern for the transportation infrastructure itself. In the desert Southwest an acute risk exists from thick clouds of dust aerosols crossing roads, causing sudden loss of visibility and distracting drivers. Nowhere is this hazard greater than where Interstate 10 crosses Lordsburg Playa, a typically-dry lakebed in southwest New Mexico, the site of more than 10 dust-related traffic fatalities in 2017 alone. The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) (funded by CARTEEH), New Mexico State University (funded by New Mexico Department of Transportation- NMDOT), and their State and Federal collaborators are working to understand the causes and risks of the dust hazard at Lordsburg Playa. Together, we aim to better predict exposures to travelers, highway workers and public safety officials, and support mitigation efforts. UTEP is measuring the physical susceptibility of different surfaces and zones of the playa to windblown dust emission, the dustiness of near-roadway and on-playa sediment, the effect of transportation-derived emissions on the playa environment, and the potential additional health hazard posed by dusts mixed with bioavailable, transportation-related by-products and emissions and mining-derived metals. New Mexico State is utilizing long-term observations from a network of time-lapse cameras to detect and catalog dust storms to help understand their nature, as well as assessing changes in particulate matter concentrations before and after pilot dust mitigation efforts along the highway crossing of the playa with a wide variety of weather, visibility, soil, blowing sand, and particle monitoring instrumentation. Both institutions are analyzing short-term weather and long-term climate data and remote sensing imagery from multiple satellite platforms to augment understanding of the dust sources, dust exposures, and their meteorological drivers. Both groups will use a variety of different numerical models to forecast hazardous dust conditions on the playa and along the highway, with the possibility to develop a dust early warning system. The USDA Agricultural Research Service uses portable instrumentation to assess dust and PM10 emissivity and erodibility from natural and human-disturbed regions of the playa, and is in the process of locating one of its permanent National Wind Erosion Research Network sites on the playa to assess the impacts of wind-eroded dust and sand. NMDOT plans to add more weather stations and a dynamic messaging sign over the next year to warn travelers. A challenge to all groups is the complex patchwork of land ownership and management in the affected area, in some cases constraining and limiting access to research sites. All in all, these projects provide a scientific basis to inform transportation stakeholders of the safety and health hazard posed by extreme aerosol concentrations from dust clouds at Lordsburg Playa and create understandings applicable to across-highway dust exposures elsewhere.