Year 5 UROP Narrative
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Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program

Recruitment - In Year 5, recruitment of participants for the UROP program was conducted mainly by e-mail. Information regarding the program was sent to STEM faculty in the state as well as to “Career Technical Advisors” or CTAs in the Accelerate program (a DOE-funded program to increase graduates in 2-year STEM degrees in northern New Mexico). In addition to e-mail, a poster and letter describing the program were mailed to these individuals. A webpage for the program was also published ( The website was completely redone for year 5 and now includes an online application. 42 students applied to the program.
Selection – Faculty who agreed to advise participants in summer research (more below), have been e-mailed the application materials (application, two reference letters, and transcripts) for students who chose their project as their first or second choice. Student selection is ongoing. The project will support at least 12 students this year.
2013 UROP projects:
Project 1: Recolonization Patterns of Mixed Conifer Species within Varying Burn Severities Following Wildfire
Location: El Rito Agroecology and Biological Research Station, El Rito Campus of Northern New Mexico College
Research Mentor: Dr. James Biggs, Northern New Mexico College
Project Description - Wildfire behavior has changed dramatically in the Southwest in recent years due to the interaction of climate change and forest management policy. In much of the western U.S., there has been a shift from generally low to moderate intensity and severity fires to fires of significantly greater intensity and severity. As fires increase in severity, the forest recovery process can change from one that is relatively “normal” to one that is either delayed or altered. If altered, entire plant communities may change from a forest structure to a shrub or other plant community structure.

This research will focus on measuring characteristics of forest recovery within a montane landscape that has experienced a recent wildfire. The student will collect data on mature tree, seedling, and sapling characteristics within the burn area. The objectives of this research are to: 1) Measure the rate of tree expansion within a recently burned forest stand, 2) Compare tree establishment between low severity and high severity burned areas, and 3) Determine the expected tree expansion and establishment time for the previously forested burned area.

The student will collect data on mature tree density, spatial distribution, height, and canopy cover by species. They will also collect data on density by height classes and spatial distribution by height classes on seedlings and saplings. Research sites will be located within the Pine Canyon Fire on the El Rito Ranger District, Carson National Forest in northern NM. The site is located near the Northern New Mexico College El Rito Campus. All laboratory and computer work will take place on the El Rito Campus within the Agroecology and Biological Research Station and the student will reside on the campus. The campus is fully self-sufficient with computers, offices, a restaurant, etc.

This project is suitable for undergraduate students majoring in natural resource science and management, forestry, or any discipline focused on the ecological sciences (range science, wildlife science, etc).
Project 2: Soil Amendment with Biochar for Increasing Nutrients and Improving Soil Water Retention
Location: El Rito Agroecology and Biological Research Station, El Rito Campus of Northern New Mexico College
Research Mentor: Dr. Mario Montes-Helu, Northern New Mexico College
Project Description - Biochar is s solid material obtained by biomass pyrolysis similar to charcoal but is used as soil amendment. It can be used as a way to increase the carbon storage in the soil for carbon sequestration. One of the main goals for biochar is that it can sequester carbon in the soil for hundreds of years. There are reports that biochar increases the soil fertility increasing agricultural productivity. Most of the research as a soil amendment has showed that increases the soil pH and salinity which can be a disadvantage in semiarid environments; these effects of biochar are not well understood. In contrast, there is evidence that there is increasing water retention in the soil that can be beneficial in places where the water is a limiting factor.

We are developing the agroecology area of the research station at El Rito. We have a natural ecosystem that is known of having low nutrient content and low water retention. We are considering that we can use biochar before we establish crop production in the area. In that way, we can have carbon sequestration, increase nutrients, and improvement in soil water retention. The objectives of this project are: a) evaluate the change of soil nutrients after applying different concentrations of biochar, b) examine the changes in soil water retention after applying biochar.

The student will measure in the laboratory the N, P, and K as well some micronutrients for a biochar application of 0, 1, 2, and 3% (weight base) for the 0-15 cm of soil depth. For the same treatments, soil water retention characteristics will be measured using soil water retention curves. A small evaporation experiment will be conducted in pots to relate the information from the soil water retention curves. Soil preparation will be made in January 2013. All laboratory and experimental work will take place on the El Rito Campus within the Agroecology and Biological Research Station and the student will reside on the campus. The campus is fully self-sufficient with computers, offices, a restaurant, etc.

We expect the student to develop the research that will help to understand the applicability of this technology for carbon sequestration, soil fertility and water use in soils of the research station before we establish any crop production.
Project 3: Water Quality and Hydrology in the Whiskey Creek Watershed
Location: Tsaile Campus of Dine' College
Research Mentors: Shannon Rupert, Dine' College and Dr. Michael Pullin, New Mexico Tech
Project Decription - The hydrology and biogeochemistry of alpine watersheds can affect the quantity and quality of water available for use by society at lower elevations. This project attempts to study the relationships between water flow and water quality by deploying and monitoring sensors in a high elevation watershed (Whiskey Creek) in the Chuska Mountains west of Tsaile, AZ on the Navajo Nation.The instruments include weather stations, a water quality sonde, shallow groundwater monitoring wells, and light/temperature sensors. The project will also take advantage of an existing stream gauge on Whiskey Creek. Students will help deploy the sensors and use them to study the relationship between water flow and water quality. Students must be willing to work out of doors. This project is suitable for any science or engineering major. Students who have completed some general chemistry will be given priority.

Project 4: The Transport and Accumulation of Pyrogenic Black Carbon in Fire-prone Watersheds and Implications for Water Quality
Location: New Mexico Tech
Research Mentors: Dr. Dan Cadol and Amy Galanter, New Mexico Tech
Project Description - Wildland fires produce black carbon (BC) in the form of soot and char generated by incomplete combustion of organic matter. Post-fire debris flow and hyper-concentrated flow events subsequently transport and redeposit it throughout the watershed. The aim of this project is to identify areas in the watershed where BC accumulates and to study its impact on contaminant transport. Black carbon has the potential for both negative impacts on water quality, for example fouling of drinking water supplies and generation of anoxic conditions, and positive impacts, such as sequestration of hydrophobic contaminants through sorption. The intensity and frequency of forest fires have increased since the 1950s and are predicted to continue to increase as a result of past fire management strategies, climate change, and shifts in land use, increasing the need to understand the effects of wildfire on water quality.

The proposed work will identify the relative importance of mass movement and overland or river flow in transporting pyrogenic BC through recently burned semi-arid watersheds by identifying the dominant depositional zones. The work will identify geomorphic contexts (e.g. floodplains, river banks, reservoir deltas, depositional debris fans) where BC accumulates and quantify the concentration of BC in deposits. Depositional zone sediment samples will be tested for heavy metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which may be produced or released during wildfire. The potential for these natural BC deposits to sequester contaminants in the form of several representative PAHs will be tested.

This research will measure the black carbon concentration in depositional zones of four recently burned watersheds in New Mexico. The primary objective of this work is to quantify the relative abundance of black carbon in two potential depositional zones – channel margins/floodplains and depositional fans. There are two secondary objectives: 1) Quantify the capacity of depositional zone soil samples from recently burned watersheds to absorb PAHs; and 2) Document the presence or absence of PAHs, Mn, Hg, and Pb in depositional zone samples from recently burned watersheds, noting the partitioning of these constituents between the black carbon fraction of the soil and the remainder of the matrix.
Project 5: Forest Pest and Beneficial Insects: Biodiversity Inventory and Monitoring
Location: Valles Caldera National Preserve (near Jemez Springs)
Research Mentor: Dr. Robert Parmenter
Project Description - Climate change is expected to be especially pronounced at high elevations in northern New Mexico, influencing forest fire regimes and potentially eliminating high-elevation spruce forests; as such, it is important to understand how these changes will affect ecological communities. Insects are the most diverse group of invertebrates in montane ecosystems, and can be used to understand climate changes and the effects of forest fire. Inventory and monitoring of pest and beneficial insects in forests is critical to understanding short- and long-term biodiversity dynamics following fires and forest restoration treatments. In this project, the student will work with the entomologist at the Valles Caldera on insect monitoring in forest and grassland sites following the 2011 Las Conchas fire (working in both burned and unburned areas). Insect collections will focus on ground-dwelling species, flying species, and nocturnal species. In addition, in anticipation of climate change effects and eventual restoration activities in high-elevation spruce forests on the Valles Caldera, we will conduct an inventory of forest insects in both spruce forests and in high-elevation rocky slopes (called “felsen meers”) – these rocky slopes have not been vegetated in over 1.25 million years, and likely harbor a number of “specialist” insect species not recorded as yet in the Jemez Mountains. In addition, this survey will provide a baseline for comparisons of future insect surveys, to be undertaken decades or centuries from now, providing insights into how this ecosystem changes with warming and drying climate conditions. Students will learn field sampling techniques, specimen preparation, and identification skills for many of the pest and beneficial species of the Jemez Mountains.
Project 6: Acequia Hydrology in Northern New Mexico
Location: El Rito Campus of Northern New Mexico College
Research Mentors: Dr. Sam Fernald and Robert Dunlap, New Mexico State University
Project Description - Students will conduct an experiment to study the surface water and ground-water interactions on a flood irrigated field. Work is being done with the purpose to have a better understanding of the hydrological processes to determine the water balance to the Northern NM acequia farmers. For hundreds of years, Pueblo Native Americans in the area of northern New Mexico have used acequias systems to provide water for the communal water use and for irrigation. These systems have survived to succession of political, legislative, and territorial changes; harsh periods of drought, and through the changes on production systems. The ability to determined water balances for this acequia and flood irrigation fields is exceptionally important to the farmers in Northern New Mexico because the data collected will help them to understand how much of the water they are actually using, how much is percolating and contributing to aquifer recharge; and how much water is going back to the river. This knowledge will help them to make better water management decisions. Work will be primarily in the field doing data collection, equipment installation, and other tasks.
Project 7: Developing Ground Water-Surface Water Models for Mountainous Watersheds in Northern New Mexico and the Navajo Nation
Location: New Mexico Tech
Research Mentors: Dr. John Wilson, Lani Tsinnajinnie, and Junhao Hu
Project Description - Snow-dominated mountainous watersheds play an essential role in supplying water resources to New Mexico and other areas of the Southwest. Students selected for this project will work in two study areas, the El Rito watershed and the Chuska Mountains. The El Rito watershed, located in Northern New Mexico, drains part of the Tusas Mountains to the Rio Chama. Along the New Mexico-Arizona border, the Chuska Mountains lie at the center of the Navajo Nation and drain into the Little Colorado River and San Juan River watersheds. Students will have the opportunity to support the development of hydrogeologic models for these study areas to better understand the hydrologic systems and how these systems may respond to climate change.

Students will work with a research group consisting of both graduate and undergraduate students who, in addition to the El Rito watershed and Chuska Mountains, are developing similar models for the Valles Caldera in the Jemez Mountains and the Rio Hondo watershed in Taos Ski Valley. The models developed in these projects will help New Mexicans and Navajo Nation residents understand how surface and ground water resources from mountainous regions may be affected by climate variability.

Hydrologic and climatological data will be collected using a variety of field methods and instruments including weather stations, piezometers, stream gauging, distributed temperature sensing (DTS), ground penetrating radar (GPR) and chemical sampling. Field data, in addition to Geographic Information System (GIS) datasets and historical hydrologic data will be used to develop a coupled ground water –surface water models for the El Rito and Chuska Mountains study areas.