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Research




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Cosmogenic dating of young basaltic lava flows
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Cosmogenic dating techniques have been successfully applied to dating of geomorphically-young surfaces, such as glacial moraines, beach terraces, and basaltic lava flows that have intact surface features, and hence have undergone little erosion (e.g. Phillips et al., 1997a and b; Phillips et al, in review, Dunbar and Phillips, 1996; Zreda et al., 1991, 1993; Zreda, 1994; Anthony and Poths, 1992, Laughlin et al., 1994). These techniques rely on measurement of cosmogenic nuclides that begin to build up as soon as a rock is exposed to cosmic rays. Therefore, cosmogenic techniques can be applied to dating of any surface that is composed of material that was not exposed to cosmic rays prior to formation of the surface, and has been exposed more-or-less continuously since. In the case of an extrusive volcanic rock, buildup of cosmogenic nuclides begins when the rock is erupted, so measurement of the ratio of a cosmogenic isotope to a non-cosmogenic isotope can provide an estimate of eruption age (Phillips et al., 1986).

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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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Development of 3D Aquifer Maps

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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El Camino Real Paleohydrogeology
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In 2012, our Aquifer Mapping Program at the Bureau of Geology initiated a paleohydrogeology study in the area of El Camino Real De Tierra Adentro, which is a National Historic Trail designated by Congress. This study is part of the Mitigation Plan that is being implemented by Spaceport America, with funding from New Mexico Spaceport Authority.

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Enhanced Potash Recovery Techniques

In cooperation with several partners in industry, a team at the bureau has developed and introduced new reagent suites and process modifications which have dramatically increased the efficiency of potash recovery from existing reserves. These new techniques have been adopted by plants within the state and will result in increased recoveries, reduced energy and reagent costs, and more effective utilization of the state’s potash resources. These resources, which are concentrated in the southeast corner of the state, are used primarily in the manufacture of agricultural fertilizer and as raw material in the chemical industry.

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Estancia Basin is a laboratory for climate research
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Estancia basin meteorological station

Bruce D. Allen, Bureau of Geology field geologist, is studying the hydrology of the playa lakes in the Estancia basin in order to reconstruct major changes in climate that have affected this region in the past. Dr. Allen and researchers from the University of New Mexico have instrumented the playas with a network of meteorological stations and piezometers to track seasonal changes in climate and groundwater flow systems.

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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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Geochronologist studies missing rocks
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Mark Nohl photo (courtesy of New Mexico Magazine)

Dr. Matthew Heizler (geochronologist) has just been awarded a three year grant from the NSF tectonics division to study the "Great Unconformity" exposed in western North America. An unconformity is a span of time for which no rock record is represented because it has been eroded away or because sediment was never deposited. The Great Unconformity was coined by John Wesley Powell during his epic run of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, AZ in 1876. Here he noticed that deformed ancient metamorphic rocks were covered by much younger undeformed sedimentary rocks. New Mexico has some of the best exposures of the contact between these very old Precambrian rocks (1.7 billion years) and younger sediments (300 million years) of anywhere in North America.

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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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Geology and Evolution of the Copper Flat Porphyry System, Sierra County, New Mexico
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The Hillsboro district, in central New Mexico, is an example of the typical geologic style of the development of Laramide porphyry copper deposits in southwestern United States. Porphyry copper deposits form from hydrothermal fluids that come from a magmatic source, generally a volcano. The copper is concentrated first by magmatic-hydrothermal processes, then copper can be further concentrated by later supergene fluids, typically meteoric waters. Porphyry copper deposits typically are large deposits and are mined mostly by open pit methods and can have by-product production of gold, silver, molybdenum, and other metals. Other types of deposits, such as skarns and polymetallic veins can occur near the porphyry copper deposits. Much of the world's copper is produced from porphyry copper deposits.

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