Impacts on Water Quality

How will climate change impact water quality?

Scientists are trying to understand how climate change will impact water quality in the Southwest. Researchers have set up monitoring stations in the Valles Caldera and they are finding out that certain changes are taking place that influence water quality. Paul Gabrielsen and his fellow researchers from New Mexico Tech (2012) have discovered that dissolved organic carbon (DOC) is being washed into the streams. The flow path includes a very important zone called the Hyporeheic Zone (HZ) where geochemical and biochemical reactions (with the help of microbes) takes place. You could think of the Hyporeheic Zone as the "liver" of the stream that is filtering the water through bio and geological processes to maintain high water quality (Gabrielsen 2011). After a severe wildland fire followed by a severe weather event such as a monsoon, the HZ is overwhelmed with flood waters. Scientists are trying to figure out what all the variables in the HZ might be and what impact climate change will have on the system. There is still a lot of work to be done that will require ongoing monitoring and analysis.

Video Clip from Valles Caldera: The Science

Research Data: 

Paul Gabrielsen and his fellow researchers monitor the dissolved organic carbon as it travels down the Jemez River meander field site.

Hyporheic Dissolved Organic Carbon Dynamics in Valles Caldera National Preserve, GSA presentation 2010-2011 Gabrielsen et al. with graph courtesy of Jesús Gomez.

Learn how to use scientific data to understand the Earth's systems by interpreting the graphs.

Under Labs and Activities you'll find a student lab sheet for students to interpret and learn more about dissolved organic carbon and the hyporeheic zone.

Researcher's Bio: 

Paul Gabrielsen earned a bachelor's degree in geology at Brigham Young University in 2009 and a master's in hydrology from New Mexico Tech in 2012. His research in the Valles Caldera National Preserve investigated how natural organic matter and stream ecosystems interact. During his earth science studies, Paul also earned a minor in English, and won college-wide essay and poetry contests. He combined his training in science and writing with a graduate certificate in Science Communication from UC Santa Cruz in 2013. He now works as a writer at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland