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Recent & Active Research

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The current and recent research projects shown below are listed in random order.
Development of 3D Aquifer Maps
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It is surprising that New Mexico does not have a detailed map of all of the productive and accessible aquifers across the state. In a state with as little as 0.24% of our land surface covered with water (the least in the country!), having detailed maps of our groundwater resources and aquifers, is essential. Some of our neighboring states, like Texas and Colorado, have these maps already available, and are successfully being used to administer and conserve water. We have started a new multi-year project to develop 3D maps of aquifers.

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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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Mapping suitability for Managed Aquifer Recharge (MAR) in the Albuquerque Basin
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An aquifer can be considered like a bank account. The deposits or credits typically consist of natural recharge adding water to the aquifer (like precipitation or river water seeping into the ground and reaching the groundwater table). Withdrawals take water out of the aquifer, and can include discharge into rivers or pumping of wells. Most cities are concerned with the withdrawal side of the equation and hope nature takes care of the deposits. But Albuquerque has undertaken the progressive measure of inputting additional recharge (deposits) now so there will be sufficient water for future withdrawals, something called managed aquifer recharge (MAR). To that end, the Albuquerque and Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority (ABCWUA) has recently completed a well for deep injection of excess river water into the aquifer, and is currently running surface water down the upper part of Bear Canyon Arroyo for near-surface recharge.

The work is funded by the ABCWUA and conducted by Dan Koning (P.I.), Colin Cikoski, Andy Jochems, and Alex Rinehart (now at NMT EES). The results have been released as Open-file Report 605 and as a summary Fact Sheet.

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Statewide Water Assessment: Groundwater Levels and Storage Changes
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Changes in water levels can reflect very relevant water issues in the arid southwest, such as depletion of the aquifer, variations in nearby surface water, fluctuations in recharge, and changes in the groundwater storage. For this study, we are compiling water level data, in an effort to begin development of a statewide water level change contour map.

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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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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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Geology of the Engle and Palomas Basins, Sierra County, New Mexico
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Geologists and hydrologists have been interested in basin-fill sediments of the Engle and Palomas Basins in Sierra County since the early 1900s. These Rio Grande rift basins contain packages of sediment shed from the surrounding uplifts over the last ~27,000,000 years. Well logs indicate that these basin-fill deposits, named the Santa Fe Group, are as much as 2 kilometers thick in places.

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Estimating Groundwater Recharge for the Entire State of New Mexico
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Groundwater is replenished by a process called recharge, where snowmelt and rain infiltrates through the soil and slowly moves through the subsurface to eventually reach an aquifer. Because groundwater recharge defines a limit for the availability of groundwater, estimating recharge for the state of New Mexico is necessary for effective water resource management.

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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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Uranium dissolution from dust in bodily fluids
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Many metals can be harmful to humans when they are taken into the body. We often think of drinking water when we think of these sources, however, toxic metals can also be taken into the body as inhaled particles or as part of our food. In this study, dust particles were mixed with one of two simulated lung fluids in an airtight glass reactor (configured as the figure to the right) where the solution was heated to a constant temperature of the standard human body temperatures – 37?C (98.6 ?F) – in a vessel purged with oxygen just before adding the dust sample. The study found that the uranum in some dust samples (and lab standards) dissolved better in one or the other of the fluids and that this phenomenon seemed to be based on the mineralogy and available surface area of the dust and the pH of the fluid.

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Spatial and temporal variations in voluminous caldera volcanism in southern New Mexico
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Masters of Science student, Karissa Vermillion, from New Mexico State University received an award for her proposal and will be mentored by Dr. Jake Ross.

The New Mexico Geochronology Research Laboratory (NMGRL) is a participant in the “Awards for Geochronology Student Research” program (AGeS2 ). AGeS2 grants are funded by the National Science Foundation Earthscope program, in conjunction with the Geological Society of America, and are designed to link students with geochronology laboratories to facilitate in depth student understanding of geochronology methods with hands on experience ultimately leading to publication of new data.

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Snowy River Passage, Ft. Stanton Cave

The main objective of this study is to examine hydrogeologic processes in Snowy River Passage by analysis of individual flood events. For a specific flood event, we will measure:

  1. The volume of water that infiltrates downward through the Snowy River streambed
  2. The volume of water that evaporates from the Snowy River stream
  3. The volume of water that discharges at Government Spring

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Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh my!

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.

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Uranium Transport and Sources in New Mexico: A five-year EPSCoR program
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In 2013, a team of New Mexico Tech researchers began a study of uranium transport, uranium source characteristics, and uranium legacy issues in New Mexico. The effort was funded by Energize New Mexico, a five-year NSF EPSCoR program that concluded in 2018 and that encompassed five research components focused on developing non-carbon emitting energy technologies. The uranium team, which included researchers from UNM, addressed uranium deposits and mine waste mainly in the Grants Mining District, including Laguna Pueblo, and on Navajo Nation lands. These uranium studies span a range of science and engineering disciplines, and not only provide new conclusions impacting remediation, hazard management, and uranium extraction, but hold implications for human health.

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Animas River Valley - Long Term Groundwater Monitoring
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Our agency has been collaborating with the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) on a hydrogeology study along the Animas River in New Mexico in response to the Gold King Mine spill, which occurred in August 2015. The water released from the spill was loaded with dissolved metals and contaminated sediments, which posed a possible risk to groundwater quality in the Animas Valley.

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The Collaborative Groundwater Monitoring Network
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The Aquifer Mapping Program at New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources (NMBGMR), with funding from Healy Foundation, is developing a statewide Collaborative Groundwater Monitoring Network for New Mexico. This voluntary Network will gather new and existing data on groundwater levels to help us understand how our state's groundwater resources are changing through time, promote increased awareness of water issues around New Mexico, and provide an important foundation for making informed water-management decisions.

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Upper Paleozoic Stratigraphy, central NM
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Bruce Allen

A variety of geological studies involving Upper Paleozoic strata, conducted during the mid-twentieth century, produced a preliminary stratigraphic nomenclature for Carboniferous and Permian sedimentary rocks in New Mexico, and a general understanding of the lithostratigraphy, age and distribution of these rock units. Ongoing investigations by geologists from the NMBGMR, universities, museums, and industry are aimed at refining this understanding. For example, strata pertaining to the Pennsylvanian System are often poorly delineated and/or subdivided on geologic maps, due in large part to their lithostratigraphic complexity and a loosely defined stratigraphic nomenclature. Progress has been made during the past 15 years toward improving the stratigraphic nomenclature for Upper Paleozoic strata in New Mexico, and documenting stratigraphic patterns, both of which should provide a better foundation for ongoing and future studies of these rocks.

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AML Project: Inventory and Characterization of Inactive/abandoned mine (AML) features in New Mexico
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The NMBGMR has been examining the environmental effects of mine waste rock piles throughout New Mexico since the early 1990s. There are tens of thousands of inactive or abandoned mine features in 274 mining districts in New Mexico (including coal, uranium, metals, and industrial minerals districts), however many of them have not been inventoried or prioritized for reclamation. The New Mexico Abandoned Mine Lands Bureau of the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department estimates that there are more than 15,000 abandoned mine features in the state. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management recently estimated that more than 10,000 mine features are on BLM lands in New Mexico and only 705 sites have been reclaimed. The U.S. Park Service has identified 71 mine features in 7 parks in New Mexico, of which 12 have been mitigated and 34 require mitigation. Additional sites have been reclaimed by the responsible companies and the Superfund program (CERCLA).

The New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources has collected published and unpublished data on the districts, mines, deposits, occurrences, and mills since it was created in 1927 and is slowly converting historical data into a relational database, the New Mexico Mines Database. More than 8,000 mines are recorded in the New Mexico Mines Database and more than 7,000 are inactive or abandoned. These mines often include two or more actual mine features.

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Mimbres Basin Hydrogeology
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The NMBGMR is beginning a new hydrogeology study of the Mimbres basin in January 2020. The initial phase of this project is an intensive campaign of water-level measurements in wells across the basin. These measurements are a continuation of a groundwater-level measurement program that began in 1910 with data recorded annually, bi-annually, or every 5 years. However, there has been no data collected in this region since 2012. We will be revisiting the wells that were last measured in 2012. The new water-level measurements will be used to create a new water table map of the basin and to assess changes in water levels through time.

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Prelude to the ‘plano’: Assessing the contribution of Jurassic crustal thickening to growth of the Cretaceous Nevadaplano
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PhD. Student, Drew Levy, from the University of Nevada-Reno received an award for his proposal and will be working with Dr. Matthew Heizler.

The New Mexico Geochronology Research Laboratory (NMGRL) is a participant in the “Awards for Geochronology Student Research” program (AGeS2 ). AGeS2 grants are funded by the National Science Foundation Earthscope program, in conjunction with the Geological Society of America, and are designed to link students with geochronology laboratories to facilitate in depth student understanding of geochronology methods with hands on experience ultimately leading to publication of new data.

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Hydrologic Assessment of the Salt Basin Region in New Mexico and Texas
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The NM Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources is working with faculty and students at New Mexico Tech, as well as researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey, on a hydrogeologic assessment of the Salt Basin region. Our research project will evaluate the water availability by 1) filling data gaps, where there is currently little or no information about the groundwater system; 2) estimating the overall balance of water in the region including groundwater recharge, storage, evaporation and pumping; 3) updating the current hydrologic model and hydrogeologic framework; and 4) running simulations in the revised model. These efforts will help assess the ability of the region to sustain current groundwater withdrawals in the Salt Basin with implications for future development in New Mexico.

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