Carnegie Mellon University
October 22, 2015

CEE Summer Spotlight: Thiago Rodrigues

CEE Summer Spotlight: Thiago Rodrigues When heavy rains cause flash floods along your usual route and forces you down a detour, are you thinking of the pavement under your tires?

Thiago Rodrigues is.

CEE master’s student Thiago Rodrigues recently completed a summer research assistantship with Professor Costa Samaras, whose research focuses on energy, climate change, and transportation. Rodrigues studied how climate change affects pavement, and his findings will help departments of transportation (DOTs) to predict and prevent distress on roads.

“Today our DOTs work based on historical data,” Thiago explains, “which only accounts for things that have already happened.” As climate change impacts environmental factors like temperature and precipitation, DOTs do not currently have the ability to incorporate these changes into their budgets and projections.

Distress from climate change causes roads to deteriorate sooner than estimated, which results in extra costs for DOTs. With a higher frequency of hot days, the pavement may melt, or “bleed,” more often, and severe freeze/thaw cycles may cause additional damage. Extreme weather events, such as flooding, can divert traffic loads to secondary streets and may accelerate wear and tear.

Rodrigues is working to develop a statistic correlation between environmental variables, such as precipitation levels and temperature, with pavement distress. This correlation will be used to adapt climate change models into existing deterioration models and allow DOTs to predict how often they will need to repair pavement in a given number of years, considering the stress the pavement will face from environmental factors. So far, Rodrigues has collected data spanning five years, but he wants to have data from twenty or forty years to create more accurate projections.

DOTs will be able to use this correlation as a method to anticipate future expenses and make appropriate investments to combat those costs. For example, Rodrigues recommends using more resilient building materials—concrete instead of bituminous asphalt.

“The final results of this project are going to be very important, first because we actually help the infrastructure management agencies to budget, but also to bring awareness to this topic,” Rodrigues says. “We want to make people aware that it’s an issue and they’re going to have problems because of climate change. We’re not only bringing them the solution, but also telling them that what we’ve been doing in the past is not enough anymore.”

The assistantship has helped him to cultivate research skills, as he sifted through years of data and articles, and to streamline his findings into concise presentations. Rodrigues presented his research at this year’s Highway Engineering Exchange Program conference in Pittsburgh, where he was awarded best student presentation.

After completing his graduate studies, Rodrigues plans to return to Brazil and work on bringing sustainable practices like solar energy and green roofs to city environments in his home country.

Thanks to Thiago’s research on pavement, when the floods come you only have to think about being late for work.