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Concrete pavement will degrade faster as the climate heats up

For a long time, scientists believed that concrete was better able to withstand high temperatures than asphalt, which frequently softens with the heat. However, a new study led by the University of Pittsburgh has found that, while concrete pavements are unaffected by an average increase in air temperature, they are highly sensitive to sharp variations in air temperature during the day. Thus, if days get hotter and nights colder, concrete pavements will likely be badly affected.

“Concrete roads constitute less than five percent of all roads in the United States, but they carry about 26 percent of all vehicle-miles traveled and punch well above their weight when it comes to moving the economy forward,” explained study senior author Lev Khazanovich, a professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Pittsburgh. 

“Concrete does not change its properties regardless of how hot it gets. There was an untested belief that this meant concrete pavements are resilient to extreme temperatures, but now we know that’s not the whole picture.”

The scientists examined the effects of such increasing extreme heat events in both mild and hot climates and discovered that concrete pavements in mild climates would be affected even more. Moreover, they found that thicker pavements are more sensitive to extreme temperatures than thinner ones, which means that major highways and freeways are at greater risk.

“As the climate continues to warm and temperature shifts become more extreme, we will need to develop innovative technologies to address the accelerating degradation of our roadways. For example, innovative concrete pavement cooling technologies, like cool and reflective pavements, could make them more resilient to extreme heat. It’s vital to our nation’s economy that our infrastructure evolves to handle the realities of a warming planet,” Professor Khazanovich concluded.

The study is published in the journal Results in Engineering.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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