Multi-scale Hydrologic Modeling of the White Sands Dune Field, New Mexico
Abstract:The shallow groundwater flow system of White Sands dune field, located within the arid to semi-arid Tularosa Basin of Southern New Mexico, likely stabilizes the base of the largest gypsum dune field in the world. The dune is saturated throughout nearly its entire accumulation thickness, resulting in a shallow water table (< 3 ft bgs) in the inter-dunal areas. Water table elevation influences the spatial extent of the dune field and accumulation thickness. The White Sands National Monument (WHSA) is concerned that lowering the water table may lead to increased scour and migration of the dune field, which could be unfavorable to the preservation of the flora and fauna that have adapted to survive there. In response to projected increases in groundwater pumping in the regional Tularosa Basin groundwater system, changes in surface water use, and the threat of climate change, the WHSA is interested in understanding how these changes on a regional scale may impact the shallow dune field aquifer.
Mathematical modeling techniques on varying spatial and temporal scales are used to characterize the relative importance of the sources of water (local vs. regional) to the dune aquifer, and to quantify the timescales on which changes may affect the water table in the dune field. A 2-dimensional, dune-scale heat and fluid flow model uses the seasonal temperature fluctuations to estimate the vertical and horizontal flow of water from the regional system to the dune field aquifer. We have also constructed a 2-dimensional, hydrologic model to characterize the regional groundwater flow regime near to the dune aquifer system, as well as across the Tularosa Basin to a depth of 6 km. Additionally, a 3-dimensional, hydrologic model of the Tularosa Basin and the White Sands dune field quantifies hydrologic characteristics, sources and sinks of groundwater in the basin and at the dune field. Computed and observed salinity, groundwater residence times, and water level data are the primary means of model calibration. Preliminary results from the three models indicate the regional groundwater system does contribute flow to the dune aquifer, and that increased pumping may increase drawdown of the regional groundwater system near the dune field. These results indicate the dune is sensitive to regional hydrologic changes.