2007-2008 Supercomputing Challenge New Mexico Supercomputing Challenge


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Challenge Team Abstract

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    Team Number: 062

    School Name: Aztec High School

    Area of Science: Environmental

    Project Title: San Juan River Quality

Final Report

Testing for water quality in local watersheds can determine overall health of riparian and aquatic habitats but can also evaluate background effects as well. San Juan River Quality waters is located 20 miles East of Aztec, New Mexico. Our close proximity offers a unique opportunity to explore these issues in detail. There is also some concern about mercury poisoning in the San Juan River from two coal burning plants upwind from Quality Waters near Kirtland, New Mexico. Arsenic is a closely monitored health issue in the Rio Grande drainage but needs further investigation here in the San Juan Basin.

Extrapolating all this data on computers will be our "Super Computer Challenge".

Local papers have issued a warning about eating fish from the San Juan River due to high levels of mercury. The 4 Corners and PNM coal fired plants were blamed for these high Mercury levels from the mercury released in coal. In defense, the power plants said the study is inconclusive due to the high background of mercury naturally found in the San Juan drainage.

Water quality surveys look at all of these issues when conducted properly. Insects have a "tolerance index" indicating levels of toxins that specific species of insects can or cannot tolerate in given populations. Specie identifications and overall numbers from regular macro invertebrate sampling can give you indirect evidence of overall water quality. Reparian surveys can add to background information concerning water quality in a given drainage. Actual testing for heavy metals with a mass spectrometer can detail parts per million and even billion for specific metals found in solution. Arsenic is also a major concern in New Mexico and is currently an important health issue in the Rio Grande watershed. Arsenic is a proven carcinogen and the World Health Organization in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Agency has lowered acceptable arsenic levels to only 5 ppb for local drinking water standards..

Monthly inspections of Quality Waters for macro invertebrate and riparian diversity. Monthly samples of Quality Waters for mass spectrometer heavy metals detection. Further investigation of Quality Waters for alkalinity, hardness, pH, total dissolved solids, conductivity and dissolved oxygen. Arsenic detection for levels over 5ppb. Extrapolate data on computers to look for trends and indications for health concern.

Underway, several months of data have been obtained with students making monthly rounds up to Quality waters for testing. Heavy metals will be tested starting in November with the Farmington City Water Treatment Plant lending use of a mass spectrometer for mercury detection. Arsenic detection using an arsenator from New Mexico Tech.. Riparian and Aquatic Surveys, two months sampled so far.

Early Spring should give us an indication of overall water quality in the San Juan River.

Stay tuned

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