Understanding High Temperature Gradients in the Buckman Well Field, Santa Fe County, New Mexico
Thursday, 18 December 2014
We propose a conceptual model to explain elevated thermal gradients, localized laterally over a few 100 m, discovered during the SAGE program in 2013 and confirmed in 2014 at the Buckman water well field in the Española Basin of north central New Mexico. The anomalous gradients of temperature with depth, dT/dz, exceed 70 ºC/km and are found in three shallow (< 100 m-deep) USGS monitoring wells close to the Rio Grande. A temperature increase of only 3 - 4 ºC at ~100 m depth would elevate the regional temperature value enough to yield the anomalous dT/dz values in the upper ~100 m.
The coincidence of a 25 km2 region of InSAR-confirmed subsidence with the locally anomalous dT/dz region suggests a way to achieve a higher temperature at ~ 100 m depth. The mechanism is an isothermal release of warmer water from ~ 200 m depth along a fissure or reactivated fault. A fourth well, 290 m away, has a temperature gradient of only 33ºC/km in the upper 100 m and a distinctly different geochemical profile, suggesting aquifer compartmentalization and possible faulting close to the anomaly. In 2001 a 800 m-long surface scarp with up to 0.2 m offset appeared 2 km to the east in response to over-pumping that depressed the groundwater table by over 100 m. Such drawdown is expected to have 2 – 5 m of compaction with attendant movement along faults or fissures. This could allow groundwater to be released upward isothermally until encountering an unbreached aquitard where it would establish an elevated thermal boundary.
Besides the local thermal anomaly, we have temperature-logged deeper water wells in the area. These and other measurements have been used to construct cross-sections of isotherms across the Española Basin along the groundwater flow units (GFUs). This allows comparison of the local thermal anomaly with classic, regional, basin hydrological models. For example, the fully-screened Skillet well, 2.3 km from the anomaly, shows a classic concave down dT/dz form indicating upwelling water. This is consistent with the regional hydraulic head and historical accounts of artesian wells pre-dating Buckman pumping. We quantified the upwelling by Péclet number analysis to be 0.076 - 0.11 m/yr. Numerical modeling using the TOUGH2 computer code is proceeding to further understand regional and local subsurface groundwater flow patterns and dT/dz values.