eNews November 2022

UNM Graduate Student Funded for Research Project to Study Water Quality Within the Valles Caldera

UNM Graduate Student Funded for Research Project to Study Water Quality Within the Valles Caldera

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Program Manager

The Valles Caldera is a resurgent caldera that lies within the Jemez Volcanic Field in north-central New Mexico. Snowmelt within the Valles Caldera provides headwaters for the Jemez River, one of the inputs into the Middle Rio Grande Basin near Bernalillo, New Mexico. Previous research has examined the effects of springs outside the caldera on Jemez River water quality. Daniel Lavery, a graduate student at The University of New Mexico, has been awarded an NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant to expand on this work and investigate the effects of the caldera’s acid-sulfate geothermal springs on surface water quality.

Under the guidance of his faculty advisor, Dr. Laura Crossey, Lavery’s project focuses on the effects of geothermal springs on surface water quality and the natural attenuation of geothermal sulfur and metals. Sulphur Creek is a geothermally-affected stream within the resurgent dome of the Valles Caldera and receives low-pH, high-in-metals geothermal inputs from discrete (Sulphur Springs) and diffuse (Alamo Canyon) sources. According to Lavery, preliminary data indicate a spike in in-stream concentrations of sulfate, aluminum, and iron. Still, these concentrations are effectively attenuated downstream when Sulphur Creek waters mix with freshwaters in Redondo Creek and Rio San Antonio.

The project, aptly named Fate of Sulfur in Sulphur Creek, Valles Caldera, NM: Implications for metal transport and water quality in geothermal systems, aims to determine the effect of the Valles acid-sulfate geothermal system on surface water quality within the caldera and the attenuative processes for dissolved geothermal components in these surface waters. This requires collecting field samples along Sulphur Creek at confluences and known sites of geothermal inputs.

According to Lavery, this research has implications for the use of the Jemez River as a water source in the future. “This research is expected to result in a better understanding of the attenuative processes of metals and sulfur in geothermally-affected surface waters. The Jemez River has stakeholders, including Indigenous communities, along its length and is a significant riverine input to the Middle Rio Grande Basin near Albuquerque, New Mexico. Any change in the attenuative capacity of the Jemez River watershed may have significant implications for its continued use as a water resource.” Lavery presented his research at the 67th Annual New Mexico Water Conference in Las Cruces and plans to present at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in Chicago.

Lavery, originally from Sugar Land, Texas, is working on his Master of Science degree, majoring in Earth and Planetary Science. After graduation, Lavery would like to remain in New Mexico, working for either the U.S. Geological Survey or a local environmental consulting firm.