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NMSU researcher studies effects of pumping groundwater on rivers

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LAS CRUCES – New Mexico State University professor Sam Fernald has traveled the world to study watershed management. His research has taken him to Chile, Argentina and now the UK, where he is currently working as a Fulbright Fellow on a collaborative project based at Queen Mary University in London to study the effects of pumping groundwater on the rivers.

Fernald, director of the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute at NMSU, received a Fulbright Scholar Award in March – his third since 2000 – and moved to London in August to work on the project. His collaborators include Professors Mark Trimmer and Kate Heppell of Queen Mary University in London and Professor Andrew Binley of Lancaster University.

The research team’s work is focused on examining biogeochemical, hydrological and water quality processes in UK rivers

“I was very lucky because I found this university through Fulbright,” Fernald said. “Mark Trimmer and Kate Heppell were both working on different aspects of this project, but they hadn’t really looked at the impacts of water management on these processes in the streams. I help them analyze the data they have collected but have not yet analyzed.

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Fernald said he brings a systems modeling approach to the project. He explained that modeling coupled human and natural systems will show how climate change and diffuse pollution scenarios could negatively impact water quality. He added that the modeling will also guide the policy of groundwater pumping and land use management to improve water quality.

“In places around the world, the disconnection of rivers and groundwater due to pumping of groundwater results in increased infiltration into river beds and decreased river flow,” he said. “These changes could damage aquatic habitat, alter bacterial activity in the riverbed, and potentially increase methane emissions from the river channels.”

Fernald said the group’s research was aimed at guiding the management of groundwater pumping for healthy rivers and informing appropriate adaptation to climate change. One concern about climate change is poor adaptation to changes in temperature and hydrology, Fernald said. He added that poor adaptation also creates problems in addition to the initial issues addressed.

As part of his Fulbright activities, Fernald represented Queen Mary University of London as an observer at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP26, in Glasgow in November. As a member of the research group and independent non-governmental organizations on the climate talks, Fernald said he learned about the effects of maladaptation and climate change on the water cycle.

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“Climate change is causing the water cycle to intensify with more droughts and floods,” he said. “Adaptation should not only respond to the impacts of climate change, but avoid creating additional problems. Pumping groundwater to compensate for the reduced availability of surface water can then cause its own problems and be an example of mismatch. “

Fernald, who will remain in London until February 2022, believes his research will be applicable to New Mexico, despite its differences with the UK

“We are really interested in New Mexico in the effects of pumping groundwater on the function of rivers. There are currently significant issues with groundwater pumping and its impact on river flow, ”he said, noting a years-long battle for water rights between New Mexico. and Texas. “Water scarcity is such a big problem in the world. In England the total quantity is less of a problem than the timing and location of water use. These questions are also important in New Mexico. I’m working on modeling system dynamics to show the effects of management on these natural processes that will hopefully be useful in New Mexico.

For Fernald, some of the highlights of the work in London include visiting historic sites around the Hampshire Avon watershed in southern England, where the research team collected samples. One of these sites is the Stonehenge landmark, which stands along the main course of the river; another is the city of Christchurch, home to a 15th century priory and the Royal Fishery, which is located where the river empties into the English Channel.

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“The story is great and gives you an interesting perspective on the sustainable management of resources,” he said. “The river was a focal point for the people of Stonehenge. Downstream they fished for salmon, and they specifically set aside the royalty fishery for prudent management almost 1,000 years ago. This was a good perspective on the importance of the long term perspective for the sustainable management of water resources.

Fernald said the Fulbright Awards are extremely competitive in London, especially in the field of environmental science, and described the application and interview process as “rigorous”. He said he was happy to receive the award because it meant he would have the opportunity to present some of his New Mexico-based research to other scientists.

As a Fulbright Fellow, Fernald said he was not only a visiting scholar, but also a representative of the United States. The Fulbright Program is the U.S. government’s flagship international educational exchange. Since 1946, the program has offered more than 400,000 participants from more than 160 countries the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas and help find solutions to common international problems. .

“That’s what is really good about being a Fulbright scholar,” he added. “It’s a mixture of making sure you’re doing a top-notch project, but also that you’re interested in being an emissary from the United States and knowing more about the host nation. “

“Eye on Research” is provided by New Mexico State University. This week’s article was written by Carlos Andres López from Marketing and Communications. He can be reached at 575-646-1955 or [email protected].

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