Integrated Desert Terrain Forecasting for Military Operations (DTF)

Affiliation(s)PIProject periodFunded by
DEES McDonald, Eric V 07/01/2003 - 06/30/2012 DoD - Army, Robert Morris Acquisition Center

Project Description

Dust on military groundsDeserts are, and will continue to be, strategic sites for military operations. Military success in desert conditions requires familiarity with these environments, as well as appropriate training and testing in locations that are characterized by rapidly changing surface conditions and climatic extremes, ranging from dust storm and brownout generation to terrain-induced mobility and detection hazard.


Fact sheet
Fact sheet

The ultimate goal of this multi-year initiative is to develop an integrated, predictive tool for forecasting desert terrain conditions (soils, vegetation cover, landscape form, dust emission potential) to support military activities. Project results have lead to the development of a geographic information system (GIS) platform to predict essential surface and subsurface terrain conditions through the integration of data on the spatial distribution, age and geology of desert landforms. The GIS platform provides an expert-based prediction system, linking surface observables to subsurface conditions over a wide range of scales in near real-time by incorporating information from satellite and unmanned aerial remote-sensing technology.

Major Tasks

  • Predict terrain conditions through image analysis and inversion of geomorphic soil and landform models
  • Develop global database of critical soil and terrain features for accurate soil property predictions in a wide variety of landscapes
  • Acquire soil-surface data and improve technology to measure and model potential dust emission
  • Improve remote-sensing strategies for desert characterization
  • Continued advancement of integrated numerical models for production of rapid terrain characterization and visualization

Related Research sponsored in part by the Department of Defense

Bacon, S.N., McDonald, E.V., Baker, S.E., Caldwell, T.G., and Stullenbarger, G. 2008. Desert terrain characterization of landforms and surface materials within vehicle test courses at U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground, USA. Journal of Terramechanics 45, 5, p. 167-183.

Berli, M., Caldwell, T.G., McDonald, E.V., and Gilewitch, D.A. In Press. Modeling desert pavement deterioration due to heavy vehicle traffic, Journal of Terramechanics.

Caldwell, T.G., McDonald, E.V., Bacon, S.N., Stullenbarger, G. 2008. The performance and sustainability of vehicle dust courses for military testing, Journal of Terramechanics 45, 6, p. 213-221.

Caldwell, T.G., McDonald, E.V. and Young, M. 2008. Soil disturbance and unsaturated hydraulic response at the U.S. Army National Training Center, Ft. Irwin, California. Journal of Arid Environments, 67, p. 456-472.

Dalldorf, G.K., McDonald, E.V., Bacon, S.N. and Nikolich, G. 2008. Testing and evaluation of a synthetic polymer for dust suppression in military applications. Geological Society of America Meeting, Oct. 5-10, Houston, TX.

Current Accomplishments

  • Continued effort toward global soil database population; current database coverage includes greater than 4,000 individual georeferenced pedological horizon descriptions
  • Successful testing of our GIS-based predictive mapping approach to rapidly map landforms and soils. First test effort mapped nearly 350 km2 in <20 staff="" hours="" li="">
  • Advancement in understanding soil-landscape relations, across climatic gradients at Yuma Proving Ground, AZ, Death Valley, CA, and the Negev Desert, Israel
  • Characterization of mineralogy of dust-producing soils for assessment of dust impacts on military material and operations in Iraq
  • Development of Portable In-Situ Wind Erosion Lab (PI-SWERL) to measure dust emission from soil surfaces
  • Measurement of dust emission from desert surfaces by rotary-wing aircraft downwash, with computer visualizations of measured wind speeds and surface shear stresses
  • Modeling terrain-based hazards of desert surfaces to military operations – e.g. dust hazards for mobility, and deterioration of desert pavements – at both operational and tactical scales
  • Terrain Hazards Assessment: Global Physiographic, Salt Potential, and Dust Potential Maps – GIS Shapefiles
  • Pedohydrology of Desert Soils: extension of rapid terrain mapping techniques for regional flood assessment

Related Research sponsored in part by the Department of Defense

Engelbrecht, J., McDonald, E.V., Gillies, J.A., Gertler, A.W. In Press. Characterizing mineral dusts and other aerosols from the Middle East – Part 1: Ambient Sampling. Inhalation Toxicology.

Etymezian, V., Nikolich, G., Abonen, S., Pitchford, M., Sweeney, M., Gillies, J., and Kuhus, H. 2007. The Portable In-Situ Wind Erosion Laboratory (PI-SWERL): a new method to measure PM10 windblown dust properties and potential for emissions. Atmospheric Environment, 41, p. 3789-3796.

McDonald, E.V. and Caldwell, T.G. 2008. Geochemical characteristics of Iraqi dust and soil samples and related impacts to weapon malfunctions, p. 258-265. In: C.P. Nathanial, R.J. Abrahart, and R.P. Bradshaw (Eds.), Military Geography and Geology: History and Technology. Land Quality Press, Nottingham.

McDonald, E.V., Caldwell, T.G., Hamerlynck, E., and Morrill, V. 2006. Developing effective ecosystem monitoring strategies for military activities in deserts: results from the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground. ASA-CSSA-SSSA International Annual Meeting, Nov. 12-16, Indianapolis, IN.

DTF Highlight:
Global Physiographic Maps to Support Army Regulation (AR) 70-38

Maps developed in support of ongoing efforts to revise Army Regulation (AR) 70-38: Research, Development, Test and Evaluation of material for extreme climatic conditions. Maps provide multiple views of key global environments that enhance understanding of the types, global distribution, and potential hazards of conditions most likely to impact military operations.

Global maps
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DTF Highlight:
Regional Dust and Salt Concentration Maps
Air Force Research Laboratory Project in support of prevention of sand induced circuit card and electrical system corrosion

Products from this project are intended to advance understanding of the distribution and composition of airborne dust and sand. This dust and sand appears to be a major source of environmental contamination and corrosion of aircraft circuit boards. The primary initiative of this project – see map below – is the production of strategic-scale maps of potential dust and associated salt emission in southwest Asia. Emission estimates are derived from regional projections of soil type and content, based in part on work conducted at U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, USA.

Regional dust and salt concentration map
Abundant dust and sand decrease performance and commonly damage military equipment.
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DTF Highlight:
Catalog of Analogs: Terrain Similarities between the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground and Central Southwest Asia

Catalog of Analogs employs the predictive methodology developed for the DTF program to identify similarities between deserts of potential military interest and deserts within the U.S. military lands. This project aims to improve desert material development and testing by identifying the best U.S. landscape analogs for international conflict areas. Initial comparisons were conducted at Yuma Proving Ground, Yuma, Arizona. Future work will expand this initiative to other U.S. military training and testing areas.

color map showing generalized surface soil
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DRI Research: Evaluation of primary Army test areas as analogous to areas of strategic interest.

Catalog of Analogs sample map
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