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Recent & Active Research

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The current and recent research projects shown below are listed in random order.
Dating the Sands of Time

A new dating method, being developed at the NMBG&MR, uses our state-of-the-art geochronology laboratory, funded by NSF and NM Tech, to determine the age of detrital sanidine (tiny volcanic minerals) from sediments.

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Geothermal Resources in New Mexico

New Mexico currently utilizes low and intermediate temperature geothermal resources for aquaculture, greenhouses, recreation, district heating, and space heating. In recent years there has been renewed interest in exploring and developing these geothermal resources, and in determining the sustainability of existing resources statewide.

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Laramide Tectonics
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Jacob Thacker

The Laramide orogeny was a mountain building event that affected the US western interior during the Late Cretaceous to Paleogene (approximately 90–45 million years ago). Many of the iconic mountains and major oil and gas producing intermontane basins of the Rocky Mountains and Colorado Plateau, such as the Wind River range in Wyoming and the San Juan Basin here in New Mexico, formed during this time as Earth’s crust was compressed. The Laramide orogeny remains a major point of controversy, as it is difficult to explain how tectonism proceeded so far into the North American plate.

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Geologic Mapping
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Geological Mapping provides the underpinning of most research carried out by our organization. Our goal is to provide state-of-the-art geological maps of sufficient detail to be of benefit for practical applications for the state of New Mexico. These maps can address a wide range specific topics, such as location of geological resources, including mineral and petroleum resources and groundwater, geological hazards, which are all relevant to natural resource use, city planning, and education.

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Hydrogeologic Study of the Plains of San Agustin and the Alamosa Creek Valley
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Since 2007, the sparsely populated San Agustin Plains has been a controversial basin: a company applied for a permit to pump 54,000 acre-feet per year and to pipe that water to a region outside of the Plains. In 2009, the neighboring watershed to the south, Alamosa Creek — the only perennial stream in the region — faced similar pressure with a mining company exploring for beryllium. In response to these pressures and questions about the hydrogeology of this area, the NM Bureau of Geology began an integrated geologic and hydrologic study of the basins in 2009.

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MINES Thermodynamic Database
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The MINES Thermodynamic Database is an initiative to generate a revised internally consistent thermodynamic dataset for minerals, aqueous species and gases for simulating geochemical processes at hydrothermal conditions in the upper crust (≤5 kbar and ≤600 °C) with focus on ore forming processes.

Alexander GysiEconomic Geologist

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Precursors to Supereruptions at the Valles Caldera, New Mexico
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Matt Zimmerer

Despite recognition as one the most iconic volcanoes on the planet, there is still much to learn about Valles caldera in north-central NM. A new collaboration between researchers at the Bureau and from UT Austin is seeking to understand the events leading up to supereruptions. In particular, the team is studying the Cerro Toledo Formation, a group of volcanic domes and related ashes that erupted between the large caldera forming events at 1.61 and 1.23 million-years-ago.

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Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh my!
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Actually, its bacteria and elephants and monkeys and humans, oh my! Geochronology (the determination of a rock's age) has a wide variety of applications; one of which is placing absolute age constraints on evolution. The New Mexico Geochronology Research Laboratory mainly focuses on projects in New Mexico and the Southwestern USA. However, in a role that fulfills its broader commitment to the scientific community, projects are undertaken from throughout the world. Recent collaborations with geologists, archeologists, and biologists have lead to exciting advances in our understanding of

  1. Mammal evolution in South America, including a refinement of when North American and South American critters began walking the present land bridge between the continents,
  2. When humans arrived in Java, Indonesia, and
  3. Confirmation that bacteria have lived in salt crystals found near the WIPP site in New Mexico for more than 200 million years

Publication and/or submission of these findings are being recognized in internationally acclaimed journals such as the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Nature, Science, and Geology.

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Do Martian manganese oxide deposits reveal biosignatures?
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The recent discovery of manganese oxides on Mars suggests more oxygen was present in the Martian atmosphere the originally thought. A pilot project was recently funded by NASA to test the feasibility of discovering biosignatures in manganese deposits on Mars with payload instruments. There are two primary goals for this project; the first is to identify key chemical signatures and second to identify key mineralogical signatures in natural biologic and abiologic manganese materials. The pilot project will focus on three field sites in New Mexico that display features of formation that range from at or near the surface then extend to the deeper subsurface; essentially examining manganese deposits from surface, cave, geothermal springs, finally fossil hydrothermal environments. Should sufficient variation be noted during the pilot project, additional funding to the project will further characterize terrestrial occurrences for comparison to Mars by utilizing rover payload instruments

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Hydrogeology of La Cienega
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Building on its basin-scale hydrogeologic studies of the Española Basin (2003-2010), the Aquifer Mapping Program continues to monitor water levels in the area for a better understanding of the groundwater contribution to the wetlands around La Cienega. This work was completed with collaboration and support from NMED, NMOSE, Santa Fe County, and USF&WS and the Healy Foundation.

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