The southwest U.S. is no stranger to dust storms. Every now and then, grains of sand and howling winds take over the region.

As these gritty desert storms peak this time of year, dust storm expert Thomas Gill, Ph.D., is available to talk about the phenomena.

The University of Texas at El Paso geologist frequently asks himself, “Are we on the road to a new Dust Bowl?”

Gill, as associate professor at UTEP, has devoted the past 25 years to dust. Fascinated by weather and the earth sciences, the geologist is eager to learn if the extreme weather events associated with climate change will include worsening dust storms.

He may soon have some answers. Funded by NASA, Gill is conducting a project that looks at the last 30 years of dust storms that have occurred in the Southwest region — as seen from space. Using weather records and satellite data and images, the goal is to recognize changes and patterns in the frequency, intensity and location of dust storms.

Gill is also funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation to identify and map highways in Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma that are at the greatest risk for windblown dust and sand hazards, and to find tools to improve the ability of highway traffic to be warned of and avoid these hazards.

Gill’s primary research interests are in atmosphere-lithosphere interaction -particularly aeolian (wind-related) processes (wind erosion, blowing sand and dust storms) and atmospheric aerosols of geological origin; and their roles in biogeochemical cycling and environmental change.