Karst Hydrology

Karst aquifers are important water resources, providing water for a quarter of the world population. The presence of dissolution channels or karst conduits create highly heterogeneous and anisotropic flow systems, where most of the flow and transport through the aquifer occur via a typically poorly constrained conduit network. To facilitate conduit delineation, to document flow and transport processes, and to constrain the structure of the aquifer system, Assistant Professor Andrew Luhmann in collaboration with Sue Bilek and Ronni Grapenthin (NM Tech) and Jonathan Martin (University of Florida) are using geophysical remote sensing (seismometers, tiltmeters, and GPS instruments) of recharge events in karst aquifers. The group is planning an upcoming field deployment at the Santa Fe River Sink-Rise system in Florida to monitor responses over a two-year period. 

Emeritus Professor John Wilson and his students have been studying hyporheic exchange in karst conduits. In many ways, karst conduits are similar to surface streams. Just as hyporheic exchange occurs in surface streams where flow moves into and out of riverbed sediments, Professor Wilson and his group have run models that demonstrate that hyporheic exchange occurs between karst conduits and the surrounding sediments and rock matrix. This exchange has implications for the processing of nutrients and organic carbon, contaminant transformation and sequestration, and speleogenesis. The Wilson research group is also conducting field studies in Florida to observe conduit hyporheic exchange.

In previous work Professor Wilson and his students examined cave micrometeorology in vadose caves (those above the water table), observing with various instruments at Carlsbad Caverns in southern New Mexico and simulating convection with mathematical models. Air currents in caves depend on buoyancy effects driven by the earth’s thermal gradients and on connections to the earth surface with fluctuation of surface temperature and wind.

New Mexico Tech benefits from being the academic partner of the National Cave and Karst Research Institute(NCKRI) in Carlsbad, NM. NCKRI is home to scientists and staff that collaborate with faculty and students on teaching and research. Furthermore, New Mexico is home to world-class caves, including Carlsbad Caverns.