Black carbon impact on water quality focus of USGS 104B research grant

In response to the NM WRRI’s Request for Proposals in November 2012 for a seed grant project to be funded through the U.S. Geological Survey’s 104B program, a water quality study has been selected. “The transport and accumulation of pyrogenic black carbon in fire-prone watersheds and implications for water quality” is under the direction of New Mexico Tech Assistant Professor of Hydrology Daniel Cadol. Co-investigators Fred Phillips and Michael Heagy, also from NM Tech, will join the effort.

With a record-setting wildfire season behind us, with the intensity and frequency of forest fires predicted to increase as a result of climate change and shifts in land use, and with its relianance on forested catchments for much of its drinking water, New Mexico must make well-informed post-fire management decisions.

Dan Cadol, with daughter Abby, examining black carbon-rich deposit in tributary of Mineral Creek, Gila National Forest.

This work will identify the relative importance of mass movement and river flow in transporting pyrogenic black carbon through recently burned semi-arid watersheds by identifying the dominant depositional zones—floodplains, river banks, or depositional debris fans. The potential for long-distance transport of debris to downstream reservoirs represents a threat to drinking water and irrigation supplies that is highly dependent on transport mechanisms. By determining the likely black carbon transport mechanisms, this study will assist managers in prioritizing treatment areas for infrastructure protection.

The mission of the NM WRRI includes the training of the state’s future water experts. Principal investigators are strongly encouraged to include students in their projects. This one-year, approximately $30,000 project includes financial support for a graduate research assistant.

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