Highway runoff characterization and assessment through sediment fingerprinting

Focus Area



Air Quality, Environmental Process






1-2 years

Research Idea Scope

Runoff associated with highways and roads has been identified as a major source of fine sediment entering water bodies. Sediment removal methods include sediment traps, hydrodynamic and filtration devices, sediment basins and chemically enhanced adsorption and coagulation are currently in practice in many places. Complete removal of fine sediment however have been challenging even with the new technologies used in sediment removal. The sources of fine sediment associated with highway and roadway runoff can be diverse and include various sources such as, sand applied during snow seasons, sediments from roadway shoulders, exposed banks along road cuts, and runoff from lands adjacent to highways and roads. Identifying the main sources of fine sediment entering water bodies is therefore critical to developing or modifying and planning of current and future erosion control projects. The primary goal of this proposed project is to characterize and assess the sources of fine sediment in highway stormwater runoff. This will be done through: 1. Partition fine sediment in highway stormwater runoff into anthropogenic and natural sources 2. Identifying natural and anthropogenic sources of sediments in highway and roadway runoff through application of sediment fingerprinting. 3. Map and rank source areas. The general approach for this project is to sample fine sediment source material and fine sediment in runoff from highways and roadways to fingerprint these sources to determine from where and at what concentrations they are getting into streams and water bodies. The fine sediment sources and fine sediment in highway and roadway runoff will be fingerprinted using a full suite of major ions and trace elements, with rare earth elements, and radionuclides.

Urgency and Payoff

It has been hypothesized that most of the fine sediment from highway runoff is so that resource managers can make better informed decisions about where and how to implement appropriate BMPs. Concerns about the adverse effects associated with accelerated soil losses have led to an urgent need for reliable quantitative data on the extent and rates of soil erosion worldwide. Isotopic and radionuclides studies allow rapid, non-destructive and quantitative measurements of soil and sediment properties, even in the field. These techniques would allow us to understand the behavior of the tracer under many different conditions and the important role that spatial variability might play in understanding water erosion. The potential payoff from this study is identification of sediment sources and target planning and management practices to those source area which saves time and money.

Suggested By

Soni M Pradhanang University of Rhode Island 401-874-5980

[email protected]