HU Part of New Statewide NSF Grant Award for Climate Change Research

New Mexico Highlands University was awarded a $631,548 National Science Foundation five-year grant as part of an ambitious new initiative called the New Mexico Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research or EPSCoR.New Mexico EPSCoR aims to establish the state as a national laboratory for climate change research. An important goal of the research is to better understand and forecast the effects of climate change on water supply in our arid state.   “Our university’s part of this statewide NSF grant award is for building research infrastructure at the university and monitoring water quality in Northern New Mexico’s high-elevation watersheds,” said Edward Martinez, natural resources management department head and professor at Highlands. “This EPSCoR grant makes Highlands University part of a collaborative research team that includes scientists from three other state universities in New Mexico, including the University of New Mexico, New Mexico State University, and New Mexico Tech, and scientists from Sandia and Los Alamos National Labs.” Martinez said Highlands’ portion of the grant is earmarked specifically for purchasing research instrumentation, and funding for graduate and undergraduate students. “In the first year, we’ll purchase three instruments for our new water quality lab that will allow us to measure nutrients and metals in the streams selected for study in Northern New Mexico,” Martinez said. “The grant money will allow us to build the infrastructure for research we couldn’t do in-house before. It’s exciting that the first year of our Highlands’ grant funds students to do water quality and climate change research. Each year, the amount of funding for both graduate and undergraduate student research increases.”Martinez said the new instruments will be used to measure the changes in water quality in the selected watersheds during seasonal fluctuations in precipitation, such as rain and the snow pack.”In my research I’ll be monitoring streams in the Valles Caldera National Preserve in the Jemez Mountains because that was one of the areas chosen for monitoring when we wrote the grant proposal,” Martinez said. “I’m especially interested in determining how concentrations of dissolved substances such as heavy metals and nutrients change with the changing seasons.” Martinez added that the faculty will also have access to the new instruments in the water quality lab for research and as teaching tools, enhancing the hands-on learning environment for students.Daryl Williams is a Highlands University graduate student in life sciences with an emphasis on natural resource management. He is working on a master’s thesis that studies the water quality of Peterson Reservoir, one of two reservoirs that supply drinking water for the City of Las Vegas. Williams is working cooperatively with the city on his study. Williams is using the current instrumentation in the university’s new water quality lab for his research, and is looking forward to using the new instruments the university will purchase with the new NSF  grant.  “I’m analyzing the reservoir sediments  and macro invertebrates like larvae and snails that live in the sediments,” Williams said. “Invertebrates are widely used as an indicator of water quality. I’m currently using the water quality lab to measure nutrients in the water, which helps determine the productivity of the reservoir and its food web. The food web is what’s available for the invertebrates to eat.”The new lab equipment will help me analyze copper levels in the invertebrates in Peterson Lake compared to the invertebrates in the Gallinas River, my control group,” Williams said. “It will be a real time and money saver to have the new instruments in-house. It will also make my research more precise.” Martinez, who chairs Williams’ master’s thesis committee, said students who learn how to use the new instruments in the water quality lab will have a competitive edge when they apply for graduate school or jobs in their fields of study. He added that having the new water quality instruments in house will also help the university be more competitive with future grant proposals. In addition, the new instruments will open doors for collaboration with universities in other parts of the United States that are conducting water quality research.