U.K. heat wave damages airport tarmac

Airports in the UK had to temporarily shut down runways due to heat damage. Here’s how that’s possible and why it doesn’t happen consistently in hotter climates.

For the first time in recorded UK history, temperatures topped 40 degrees Celsius – the equivalent of 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

The heatwave has put Britain’s infrastructure to the test, and it hasn’t always passed. London Luton Airport had to temporarily close a runway due to heat damage and the British press reported that a Royal Air Force runway had ‘melted’.

Reports came as a surprise for many Britons, especially as such high temperatures are not uncommon in other parts of the world where the runways appear to be intact nonetheless. Some wondered how was it possible runways could melt at all, Other why it happened in Britain and not elsewhere.

THE QUESTION

Can hot weather damage asphalt roads?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

This is true.

Yes, hot weather can damage asphalt surfaces like runways.

WHAT WE FOUND

Asphalt is made from a mixture of sand, rock and a binder called bitumen, which is a type of oil-based tar.

Sand and rock will not melt unless heated to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit or more. But the binder melts at much lower temperatures, allowing asphalt to be spread and paved.

For the paving process, asphalt is typically heated to 270 F or higher, which converts the binder into a liquid. Once it cools, it turns into a solid that can support the weight of large vehicles such as airplanes.

Hot weather alone will not heat asphalt to 270F and liquefy it. However, because asphalt is dark and retains heat, air temperatures of 100 F can cause an asphalt surface to get 150 F or hotter, which is enough to soften the bitumen and cause the kind of damage that forces runways to close .

“Basically, we’re talking softening,” said Manik Barman, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Minnesota who specializes in road infrastructure. “It becomes so soft that with a small load you can see an imprint – or we call it technically plastic deformation, a deformation that doesn’t rebound.”

London Luton Airport itself identified this as a potential problem in a 2019 environmental report that analyzed possible impacts of climate change on its infrastructure. The report states: “Increased summer temperatures and increased winter temperature fluctuations can cause damage to asphalt and tarmac.”

But why was this happening in London and not, for example, in Phoenix – where temperatures are regularly well above what the UK sees? According to Barman, there are different grades of asphalt binder that can withstand different temperatures. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) told VERIFY that American runways typically use pavement that can withstand temperatures of up to 169 F.

But Britain has never been this hot.

“Maybe 10 years later, what’s happening this week, we’re not going to say these are record temperatures, so we should be prepared on any infrastructure,” Barman said. “If we like [have a long-term] fix and if you want to be visionary… choose the grade by the tip [temperatures] You will see in the next 30 years.”

Barman says pavement grades are usually chosen based on historical temperature data, but the effects of climate change mean that data may now be unreliable predictions.

London Luton Airport did not respond to VERIFY’s questions about the type of asphalt used, but did send a statement, which said in part: “Our runway is built to the same specifications as any other in the UK and meets all industry safety standards and regulations . Our maintenance and inspection system also follows industry best practices and all the requirements set out in our operating license.”

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https://www.king5.com/article/news/verify/extreme-weather-verify/hot-weather-can-damage-asphalt-runways-uk-heatwave/536-03af132f-39fe-42ed-a8da-14bdd9e7b953 U.K. heat wave damages airport tarmac

Alley Einstein

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