This experiment is part of the Groundwater and Caves Challenge Grant. Browse more projects

Is climate change depleting an untapped water resource?

Texas A&M University
College Station, Texas
Earth Science
DOI: 10.18258/8205
Grant: Groundwater and Caves
Funded on 12/17/16
Successfully Funded
  • $2,692
  • 110%
  • Funded
    on 12/17/16

About This Project

Rock glaciers are alpine aquifers that store water for long periods of time. Many cities depend on water supply from mountainous river basins that include rock glaciers. Impacts of climate change include reduced precipitation and shorter snow seasons. Thus, river basins originating in mountains will have less available runoff. This research analyzes the mechanism of groundwater flow and the volume of water stored within rock glaciers using electromagnetic induction (EM).

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What is the context of this research?

Rock glaciers can have a matrix of ice (pore-ice or ice lenses) or a core
of ice, covered by angular rocks. The internal structure of rock glaciers allows them to have a slower response climate warming as the internal ice is insulated by the overlying mantle of rubble. There are complex relationships between inputs and outputs of ground and surface water within rock glaciers, as well as phase changes (solid-liquid) that complicate the ways in which groundwater flows. This project proposes to study these complicated relationships in selected rock glaciers in the San Juan mountains in Colorado.

What is the significance of this project?

The World Economic Forum placed catastrophes caused by climate change as the biggest threat to economy. In September 2016, the amount of CO2 (a heat-trapping gas) in the atmosphere went over 400 ppm. A milestone that makes it extremely difficult to prevent global temperatures from rising more than 2C (35 F). Although all environments are sensitive to impacts of climate change, alpine environments are especially so. Scientists estimated that over half of the alpine glaciers will disappear in the 21st century. Rock glaciers are one of the 3 sources of water in alpine environments. This research will characterize the internal structure of rock glaciers to evaluate their potential for water resources, while applying a new system for time-domain electromagnetic induction.

What are the goals of the project?

The wide distribution of rock glaciers in major mountain ranges of the
world makes them a significant option for water supply currently and in the future. This project aims to promote the conservation of alpine aquifers by raising awareness of the sensitivity of alpine regions to climate change. Highlight the importance of rock glaciers as water reservoirs. Define the pathways of groundwater and surface water flow within the selected rock glaciers. Determine the volume of ice and liquid water within the rock glaciers. Calculate the rate of ice melting in the area. Create a regional and local meteoric water line.


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A large part of the expense for this project will be mobilizing us and the equipment to the study area. We will reduce costs by driving from Texas and camping at the site. However, we need funding to cover the costs of our field work:

  • Renting vehicle
  • Fuel for vehicle (from Texas to Colorado) and for ATV on site
  • Camping fees, permit
  • Meals for field assistants

We are in need of funds to feed the field assistants. We are expecting to have a group of 5 in the field for at least 12 days, as part of our first data collection field trip.

Endorsed by

The ability to encourage and support students in projects like Raquel is really great. Every contribution helps, in many ways, no matter the size. The topic is also important. We already know little about how much water we have to allocate to different end users, including the environment. That is why is it so easy to over-allocate water in a stream or watershed. This project will help understand the additional potential for decreasing water availability in some areas due to changing climate conditions.
The lack of water in arid regions, surrounded by high mountains, will escalate into a major problem without new sources of water. Rock glaciers are common in all alpine areas and insulate buried ice from rapid melting. The slow release of water from rock glaciers into arid regions provides a critical resource for life. I serve the Team as a member on their graduate committees and strongly support this research on a topic gaining importance as climatic change continues.
I have worked with Raquel for several years. She is a top-drawer scientist. She is extremely dedicated and leaves no stone untouched. This project is extremely important with regard to water resources and the potential impact of global change. She has a well thought out scientific plan. I am confident that she will produce a significant contribution to understanding the impact of changing climatic conditions on water resources in alpine areas. This research will have application world-wide.
This is a tremendous opportunity that brings advanced methods in controlled-source electromagnetic geophysics to bear on an important socioeconomic project. The proposing team are well-poised to make detailed geological interpretations of the geophysical data in order to detect internal structure of the rock glaciers.

Meet the Team

Raquel Granados Aguilar
Raquel Granados Aguilar
PhD Student


Texas A&M University
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Taylor Rowley
Taylor Rowley
PhD Student


Louisiana State University
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Rodrigo Rodriguez
Rodrigo Rodriguez
BSc Student


University of Guanajuato
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Team Bio

Raquel, Rodrigo and Taylor were part of the collaborative project: "A Bi-National Approach To Education And Research: An Assessment of Surface Water and Groundwater Resources in the San Miguel de Allende Region, Guanajuato, Mexico". The results of this research were presented at GSA, 2015. This project is unique by bringing together young scientist from around the world to work as part of an interdisciplinary team to tackle emerging problems involving water and energy resources.

Raquel Granados Aguilar

Raquel obtained her BSc in Geology from the University of Costa Rica (UCR) in 2010. She received a Diploma of Academic Excellence, Best Grade Point Average of Geology, 2011. In 2013, she graduated with an advanced degree (Licenciatura) in Geology from the UCR, having her thesis approved with distinction. In 2014, she started her doctoral studies at Texas A&M University, as part of the High Alpine and Arctic Research Program (HAARP) working with Dr. Rick Giardino. In 2016, Raquel was awarded with the International Peace Scholarship from the P.E.O sisterhood. Raquel joined the Geology and Geosciences Virtual Internship Program in April 2015, and has been working with Michael Lilly from Geo-Watershed Scientific through Texas A&M University. As a result of this collaboration, she was part of the Conference Technical Program Committee for the American Water Resources Association (AWRA) 2016 Spring Specialty Conference on Water-Energy-Environment Nexus. Raquel collaborated with Dr. Giardino and Dr. Chris Houser as a co-author in two of chapters of the book: "Principles and Dynamics of the Critical Zone", published in 2015.

Taylor Rowley

Taylor obtained her BSc in Geography from the University of Oklahoma in 2012. She went on to work for the Water Resources Board of Oklahoma studying surface water quantity and quality throughout the state. She decided to return to school to pursue her Masters in Water Management and Hydrological Sciences at Texas A&M University and received her degree in August 2016. Taylor is now starting her PhD in Geography at Louisiana State University. While at Texas A&M, Taylor joined the Geology and Geosciences Virtual Internship Program, and has been working with Michael Lilly from Geo-Watershed Scientific. As a result of this collaboration, Taylor was also a part of the Conference Technical Program and Planning Committee for the American Water Resources Association (AWRA) 2016 Spring Specialty Conference on Water-Energy-Environment Nexus. Taylor also collaborated with Dr. Giardino and Dr. Chris Houser as a co-author in a chapter of the book: "Principles and Dynamics of the Critical Zone", published in 2015, focusing on Periglacial processes and landforms.

Rodrigo Rodriguez

Rodrigo is a Senior Undergraduate Environmental Engineering student focusing on groundwater at the University of Guanajuato, Mexico. He has been researching in collaboration with professors Dr. Peter Knappett, and Dr. Rick Giardino from Texas A&M University, and Dr. Yanmei Li from Guanajuato University. His collaborative research has bee conducted in Mexico, studying groundwater geochemistry, specifically Arsenic and Fluoride since 2015. He has also been a visiting student at Texas A&M conducting laboratory analysis for soil samples using XRF and XRD equipment. His undergraduate research extends from publishing an article in the Journal of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering on “Apparatus Prototype for Purpose of Teaching in Bio-Digesters”, to Environmental audits in the Bajio industrial sector in Guanajuato, Mexico, as well as assessing the effects of drilling deep potable water wells in the Independence Aquifer on high metal and metalloids concentrations in groundwater.

Additional Information

Many cities in Europe and Asia depend on water supply from rivers originating in alpine areas. The municipal water for Boulder, Colorado, is supplied by meltwater from the Arapaho rock glacier. The timing and amount of runoff in creeks and rivers in mountainous regions will be negatively affected by the changes in snow amount. The consequences of the reduction of the runoff affect not only mountain communities but also the more populated lowland regions that benefit from those river basins. Availability of essential water resources causes conflicts globally. Not only between countries, such us the United States and Mexico, but within the United States in places like California.

We know that rising global temperatures will increase the rate of melting of glacial ice. It is important to know how fast the ice is melting. To do so, we need to know the amount of ice within the rock glacier. Once we interpret and model the data collected using the geophysical method we can estimate the volume of internal ice and understand groundwater flow within the rock glaciers. We can incorporate this information to a temperature-change model that includes present and past data to estimate the rate of melting of ice of the selected rock glaciers.

Project Backers

  • 80Backers
  • 110%Funded
  • $2,692Total Donations
  • $33.23Average Donation
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