UMass Amherst Researcher Asks for Massachusetts Water Samples

Map of surface water sampling locations across the state of Massachusetts during the summer of 2016. Dot colors reflect Oxygen isotopic composition which corresponds to moisture source and degree of evaporation.
Map of surface water sampling locations across the state of Massachusetts during the summer of 2016. Dot colors reflect Oxygen isotopic composition which corresponds to moisture source and degree of evaporation.

AMHERST, Mass. – University of Massachusetts Amherst hydrologist David Boutt and his research team are asking to receive water samples from citizens to help them establish a high-resolution map and database of natural chemical signatures, that is hydrogen and oxygen isotopes found in surface water, precipitation and groundwater.

The samples will help them to better understand the isotopic composition of state waters and how groundwater is changing as a result of human activities. Participants will receive a brief report on the isotopic composition of their water compared to regional waters.

Boutt explains, “Water that we see moving through the system now is a relic of the past. With isotopes we can develop a map to understand water’s residence time in ground and surface waters. Using isotopes, we can track the source of moisture coming into New England.” The work is supported by nearly $50,000 from the U.S. Geological Survey.

He adds, “When water evaporates into the atmosphere it picks up a signature. Using isotopes, we can assess if our rain is from the Pacific, the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic or the Arctic by measuring these isotopes. We can use all of this to help us understand where all the water is coming from.”

With the isotope project, the researchers will create a public baseline and online tool where regulators, homeowners, watershed associations and researchers can get information on a range of isotopic concentrations that tell them the residence time for each aquifer and information regarding water supply sustainability during drought.

“At the state level, such a database can tell us how responsive a particular watershed is to natural climate variability. Right now decisions are being made with not enough data and we hope to improve that situation,” Boutt says. “If we better understand the sources of moisture and how isotopes are moving through our local water systems we can better understand how water is being affected in a changing climate.”

Boutt and colleagues invite residents of western Massachusetts to contribute water samples to the project from wells or nearby streams by contacting Boutt at 413/545-2724 or email dboutt@geo.umass.edu