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Scientific Investigations Report 2006–5166

Questa Baseline and Pre-Mining Ground-Water Quality Investigation. 24. Seismic Refraction Tomography for Volume Analysis of Saturated Alluvium in the Straight Creek Drainage and Its Confluence With Red River, Taos County, New Mexico

By Michael H. Powers and Bethany L. Burton

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SIR 2006-5166
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As part of a research effort directed by the New Mexico Environment Department to determine pre-mining water quality of the Red River at a molybdenum mining site in northern New Mexico, we used seismic refraction tomography to create subsurface compressional-wave velocity images along six lines that crossed the Straight Creek drainage and three that crossed the valley of Red River. Field work was performed in June 2002 (lines 1–4) and September 2003 (lines 5–9). We interpreted the images to determine depths to the water table and to the top of bedrock. Depths to water and bedrock in boreholes near the lines correlate well with our interpretations based on seismic data. In general, the images suggest that the alluvium in this area has a trapezoidal cross section.

Using a U.S. Geological Survey digital elevation model grid of surface elevations of this region and the interpreted elevations to water table and bedrock obtained from the seismic data, we generated new models of the shape of the buried bedrock surface and the water table through surface interpolation and extrapolation. Then, using elevation differences between the two grids, we calculated volumes of dry and wet alluvium in the two drainages. The Red River alluvium is about 51 percent saturated, whereas the much smaller volume of alluvium in the tributary Straight Creek is only about 18 percent saturated. When combined with average ground-water velocity values, the information we present can be used to determine discharge of Straight Creek into Red River relative to the total discharge of Red River moving past Straight Creek. This information will contribute to more accurate models of ground-water flow, which are needed to determine the pre-mining water quality in the Red River.

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Posted May 2007

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