NAU team studies how spring water affects ecosystems

Trojan Hill

Cronkite News

Springs are extremely important to Arizona’s ecosystems and people, and springs can tell us a lot about both, according to Abe Springer, whose Northern Arizona University research team studies spring water and groundwater and its effects on the environment.

For the past 10 years, the professor of ecohydrogeology and a team of NAU researchers, including graduate students, have monitored and collected spring data from Coconino National Forest and Grand Canyon National Park. The versatility of sources allows graduate students to study the effects on Arizona’s ecosystems and economies while contributing to our understanding of climate change.

A spring is a point where water held underground in geological layers, called aquifers, passes through the crust and reaches the surface. All of Arizona’s perennial streams are spring-fed, Springer said, and they can tell us about the health of the state’s aquifers.

Springer said he studies Arizona springs because of their importance to the environment and humans, and because they are a barometer of climate change. In addition, they are easier to access than aquifers.

“The state of Arizona is significantly dependent on water supplies from aquifers and springs,” he said. “Our research at Hoxworth (Springs south of Flagstaff) and similar sites is directly helping to illuminate the long-term sustainability of Arizona’s aquifers for water supply.”

One of the team’s first findings is that springs react to the dry phase the climate is in right now, and that smaller springs can show changes that are delayed to larger springs, such as large springs that feed Oak Creek.

“These small upland springs are sentinels that more quickly describe changes (in the) wet or dry phases of climate,” Springer said.

He and his team have partnered with the U.S. Forest Service to provide spring assessments and spring flow data, which the Forest Service uses to prioritize springs that need to be maintained, as well as manage water and water rights. other management issues.

Katelyn LaPine, a graduate student at NAU studying under Springer, focuses on the non-market values ​​of ecosystem services from springs, or how humans perceive and value springs. She found that many springs have been degraded by overgrazing by livestock.

“Springs are currently not managed separately from the overall forest management plan,” LaPine said. “Thus, our efforts are essentially aimed at ensuring that the springs are a separate identity from the general forest management plan”, which will facilitate the protection of the springs.

LaPine said the management scenarios they were working on could be applicable to other semi-arid ecosystems across the country.

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