Spring-Fed Science in West Texas

Bayani Cardenas (background) guides Tyson Mckinney to the spring vent to show the placement of the sampling hose and the sensor housing. Credit: Mayumi Cardenas.

Driving along I-10 through the vast, arid region of West Texas, the last thing one would expect to find is a large pool of crystal clear, spring-fed water. But that is exactly what tourists and locals alike have enjoyed at Balmorhea State Park for generations, located just a few miles off the interstate between Fort Stockton and Van Horn at the base of the Davis Mountains.

Officially known as San Solomon Springs, this desert oasis not only serves as an important recreational area and source of water for local communities and agriculture, it is also home to a wide array of wildlife, including two small, endangered desert fishes: the Pecos gambusia and the Comanche Springs pupfish. For the past two years, researchers at the Bureau of Economic Geology have been studying this springfed pool, along with other nearby freshwater springs, in order to develop a comprehensive hydrogeologic model for the region. By monitoring precipitation along with stream and groundwater flow in the nearby Davis Mountains and looking for associated changes in spring flow and chemistry, researchers hope to improve upon previous models of the spring system.

In July 2020, Jackson School of Geosciences Professor Bayani Cardenas volunteered to help out by diving to the bottom of the spring-fed pool to replace a pressure-temperature-conductivity sensor that regularly collects readings from the spring. Meanwhile, on the surface, Jackson School doctoral student and bureau technician Tyson McKinney collected samples of water emanating from what is believed to be the main spring vent thanks to the placement of a sampling hose by Cardenas during his dive.

Geochemical analyses of these samples, along with data collected from the sensor, will help researchers at the bureau better understand how local and regional hydrologic events affect this important spring system.

Tyson McKinney

Doctoral Candidate