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Recent and Ongoing Bureau of Geology Research Projects:
environmental scientists map New Mexico's aquifers

Geologic maps are uniquely suited to solving problems involving Earth resources, hazards, and environments. Geologists at the Bureau of Geology have been producing state-of-the-art geologic maps, and using them to investigate New Mexico's aquifers. "Geologic maps are the primary source of information for various aspects of land-use planning" says Paul Bauer, former manager of the Bureau of Geology's STATEMAP program, "and most importantly for the people of New Mexico these maps are helping to identify ground-water aquifers, locate water supply wells, and site potential polluting operations safely away from our aquifers." Geologic maps represent the distribution of different types of rock and surficial deposits, as well as locations of geologic structures such as faults and folds. The maps capture the size, shape, depth, and the physical and chemical contexts of earth (and aquifer) materials. "It is the combination of geologic maps and new GIS (Geographic Information System) computer technology and software," Bauer points out "that helps us address a great variety of complex geologic and hydrologic issues such as: 'How does the subsurface distribution of porous and impermeable rock affect the flow of water, the potential for contamination, and the volume of water available for use?'"

It is exactly this question that hydrogeologists in our Aquifer Mapping Program are answering by combining these new geologic maps with additional hydrologic and chemical data from New Mexico's streams and aquifers. Our environmental field geologists Sean Connell (former staff member), Steve Cather, Dave Love, Richard Chamberlin, and John Hawley (Emiritus —Bureau of Geology) have mapped geologic materials across much of the Albuquerque Basin and correlated what they see on the surface with subsurface information from the basin's aquifers. In this way they have created a three-dimensional model of the aquifers beneath Albuquerque. This conceptual model helps to answer the most critical questions: "How extensive are our aquifers and how long will they last?" Peggy Johnson, a hydrogeologist at the Bureau of Geology (now retired), completed a hydrologic study in Placitas using a very detailed geologic map of that area produced at a scale of 1:12,000. "Placitas is one of the most geologically complex regions in the state, and a study of the aquifers here would not be possible without detailed geologic information," says Johnson. "I created a derivative geologic map that just shows the distribution of bedrock units making up the area's limited aquifers. And by looking at naturally occurring chemical tracers in the ground water and surface water, have been able to map out this very complicated aquifer system with a significant degree of both resolution and confidence." Results of Johnson's research in Placitas is being used by Sandoval County to help make wise decisions on future development of this scenic area of New Mexico.