Meet the Researcher, Laura Crossey, Distinguished Professor, University of New Mexico
By Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator
Laura Crossey, a Distinguished Professor at the University of New Mexico (UNM) for the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, has been teaching for 35 years, and researches low-temperature geochemistry with application to hydrochemistry, geomicrobiology, and sedimentary diagenesis. Crossey feels her role as a geoscientist has several intertwining aspects that must be appropriately balanced. These aspects include performing research to publish peer-reviewed papers on topics concerning her specialty areas and teaching/mentoring students. She has successfully mentored over 37 students to degree completion and is currently advising two PhD, two MS, and two BS student researchers. Crossey thoroughly enjoys working with college students of any grade level and finds fulfillment in her teaching opportunities.
One of her graduate students, Naomi Delay, was recently awarded a New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI) Student Water Research Grant for her project, titled Hydrogeochemical Analysis of Springs in the Cibola National Forest: Implications for Springs/Wetlands Sustainability & Geochemical Response to Forest Fire. The project will focus on the impacts of wildfire on local hydrology and understand the sustainability and hydrogeological framework of arid-land springs. Crossey remarks that “the WRRI student grant opportunity is truly one of the most powerful programs for graduate students working on water-related topics in the state,” and that “several [of her] former graduate students who received support through the WRRI grant process gained valuable experience and have since gone on to be faculty members themselves in other locations (e.g., Dennis Newell, now at Utah State University; Matthew Kirk, currently at Kansas State University; and Jon Golla, who is completing his PhD at the University of Illinois).”
Crossey earned a BA from Colorado College, an MS from Washington University in St. Louis, and a PhD degree in Geology from the University of Wyoming. Her PhD dissertation was titled The Origin and Role of Water-soluble Organic Compounds in Clastic Diagenetic Systems, which she completed under the advisement of Dr. Ronald C. Surdam. According to Crossey, she considers herself very fortunate to have such strong research interests in low-temperature geochemistry with application to water quality, paleohydrology, geothermal systems, microbial ecology, and planetary geology. One of her more recent projects concerned geothermal systems in Tibet, and she states that this was “fascinating as it allowed [her] to travel to this intriguing area of the world and visit with cultural communities who live on the land in close proximity to such amazing geothermal features.” During her visit, she was able to demonstrate how noble gases dissolved in fluids carry traces of tectonic structures that can help reveal more about hazardous plate tectonic boundaries.
Another project Crossey is working on involves her current graduate students and is related to understanding the groundwater systems of the Grand Canyon region. She mentions that spending time in such an incredible area like the Grand Canyon National Park is just one of the benefits of the important work she is conducting. The location of her research “provides the opportunity to interact with tribal communities who have strong interests in the sustainable flow of Grand Canyon springs in the face of increasing groundwater use across the Colorado Plateau, and the chance to work with Grand Canyon National Park staff at better documenting Grand Canyon resources and science communication on geoscience and groundwater topics to the general public.”
Crossey’s research has been funded numerous times throughout her career by the National Science Foundation, the National Park Service, and the US Forest Service. She has been awarded several prestigious honors, which include her current title as a Distinguished Professor since August 2021, fellow recognition for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2020), and was presented the Birdsall-Dreiss Distinguished Lecturer award by the Hydrogeology Division of the Geological Society of America (2019). Crossey also contributes to a variety of different types of service tasks ranging from journal editorial assignments and technical reviews, to extensive local university efforts and community outreach associations with local sports teams and regional science fairs.
Crossey has authored over 80 peer-reviewed publications (four articles published in 2021). She also has approximately 52 other writing publications, including works associated with memoirs, proceedings, guidebooks, and various reports. She is affiliated with several professional organizations, including being an external advisory board member for the Global Water Institute located at the Ohio State University, institutional coordinator for the New Mexico Alliance for Minority Participation, and a member of the Association of Women Geoscientists since 1989. Crossey has attended over 150 conferences, symposiums, and seminars as a guest lecturer and presenter, and has additionally been an invited presenter at several NM WRRI conferences and frequently works with other professional water organizations across the state.
Crossey aspires to continue publishing on groundwater geochemistry and expand into applications of hydrology and diagenesis to understand Mars’ environment. She is pleased to share that she is part of the collaborative team working on the Chemistry and Camera tool (ChemCam), which provides data sets used to identify the specific composition of rocks and soils produced by the Mars rover, “Curiosity.” Crossey also plans to continue encouraging her students to participate in active projects taking place in the Valles Caldera National Preserve and in the Sandia Mountains. As a word of inspiration to anyone considering joining the water research field, she expresses that “water availability and quality is an ever-increasing challenge in the American Southwest, and the opportunity to do fun work in the Land of Enchantment that has pressing societal relevance is a very exciting way to complete a graduate degree and prepare for a career in this area.”