NACOGDOCHES, Texas - The second phase of a significant Texas Department of Transportation grant was awarded recently to Stephen F. Austin State University faculty members in the Department of Geology to support their work identifying existing geologic hazards along a roadway in Culberson County, Texas, just south of Carlsbad, New Mexico.

"It is an honor to have been asked by TxDOT to conduct research that will assist them in developing better practices for road stability within an area that is prone to significant failure," said Dr. Kevin Stafford, project director and SFA associate professor of geology. "As oilfield activity expands throughout Culberson County, the heavy truck traffic is having a significant impact on infrastructure that was originally only intended for light/ranch traffic. As the only person who has significantly worked on the gypsum karst in this area, I have been fortunate to have been contracted by TxDOT to assess the karst phenomena associated with road failure and help them develop engineering solutions."

The first phase of the contract was awarded to Stafford from the University of Texas - El Paso for just more than $60,000. Dr. Wesley Brown, chair of SFA's Department of Geology, is serving as the project's co-investigator.

"The first round of funding was an initial assessment of causes of road failure within Culberson County, which proved to be more complicated than originally suspected," Stafford said. "The causes of failure are numerous and range from initial road construction a half century ago to variable karst manifestations. The first round of funding was very successful in that it identified the types of geohazards in the area. The second round of funding will focus on classifying and delineating the physical extent of each geohazard associated with RM652 in Culberson County."

Upon successful completion of the project's first phase, the second round was awarded totaling more than $705,000. The project, Stafford said, is designed to characterize and map out geologically hazardous areas along a 34-mile stretch of road in Culberson County.

"We will be utilizing various techniques to accomplish this, including geophysical surveys, remote sensing, karst surveys and traditional geologic field assessment," he added. "Geophysical surveys include: high-resolution imaging to depths of 10 meters for sites that have continuously required road repairs; collection of continuous resistivity profiles along the entire stretch of road; and interpretation of shallow ground-penetrating radar throughout the study area for characterization of road-base conditions.

"Karst surveys and geologic field assessment will be carried out in the field with traverse-based field mapping adjacent to RM652, while caves discovered within 100 meters of the right-of-way will be entered and mapped to delineate their spatial extent and determine if they cross beneath RM652."

Five SFA geology graduate students will be hired for the project this summer. An additional two to three undergraduates will be hired in the latter part of the summer to assist with field mapping and cave exploration. Stafford expects several undergraduate research projects and master's theses will evolve from the TxDOT grant project.

"Effectively, this contracted research evolved from previous research I conducted prior to joining SFA and has turned out to be a great opportunity to continue work in the region," Stafford said, "while providing funding to enable students to work in an area and environment that has been cost-prohibitive in previous years because of the distance away from Nacogdoches."