Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences

Committee Chair

Chris Andronicos

Committee Member 1

Marty Frisbee

Committee Member 2

David Genereux

Committee Member 3

John Cushman


Interbasin groundwater flow (IGF) occurs when water that is recharged in one watershed or basin discharges into an adjacent watershed or basin. This contributes additional water and solute mass to the receiving watershed complicating water and solute mass-balance estimates. Additionally, IGF can alter the response time of a watershed in two primary ways, where response time is defined as the amount of time it takes for a watershed to respond to some perturbation that causes a change in recharge. First, changes that occur outside the watershed in the contributing watershed can impact process behavior in the receiving watershed. Secondly, the response time of these external perturbations will be longer than the response time of perturbations that occur solely inside the watershed since the flowpath lengths of IGF are much greater than the flowpaths originating solely inside the watershed, thus an integrated response time arises between the watersheds. Changes in land-use and climate are causing changes in groundwater systems throughout the world, especially with respect to groundwater recharge. Understanding the timing and magnitude of these changes is critically important for future management strategies, sustainability, and adaptation.

While progress has been made in identifying IGF in the field, it remains extremely difficult to determine the regional (spatial) extent of IGF. Typically, extensive sampling over a large spatial and temporal scale is required to conclusively determine the extent and magnitude of IGF. Unfortunately, high spatial-resolution datasets are not always available in ungauged or mountainous basins. In this thesis, I examine new methods to determine the extent of IGF, and develop a conceptual model that describes the effect of IGF on watershed response times. First, I present a new methodology using mixing models constrained by inverse geochemical modeling to determine the extent and magnitude of IGF in three watersheds (Canjilon, El Rito, and Vallecitos) draining the Tusas Mountains of northern New Mexico, USA (sites where IGF has been shown to occur). Secondly, I show the construction of a 3D geological model of the Tusas Mountains, which will be used in future work to look at the effects of IGF on watershed response times. Finally, response times are approximated under different IGF conditions to provide a conceptual framework describing the effects of IGF on response time. These results show that IGF can have a dramatic effect on increasing the response time of watersheds, which has important implications moving into the future.

I find that the IGF connection from Canjilon to El Rito is large, as supported by previous research. However, the IGF connection from El Rito to Vallecitos is weak to non-existent. The maximum possible IGF contribution from El Rito to Vallecitos occurs during snowmelt when IGF contributes as much as 20% of the solute mass to Vallecitos. During summer and fall months, the IGF contribution to solute mass decreases to less than 5%. Due to the longer flowpath of this IGF connection, the response times along the IGF flowpaths in El Rito and Vallecitos are approximately double the response times of local flowpaths. This means that the amount of IGF that is occurring has a very strong influence on the integrated response time of a given watershed. I end my thesis by presenting a geological model, which will be used in the future to develop a hydrogeological model to more fully answer this question.