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Description and Prediction of Salt Mobilization by Land Application of Coal-Bed Methane Produced-Water: Carleton R. Bern
Project Title: Description and Prediction of Salt Mobilization by Land Application of Coal-Bed Methane Produced-Water
Mendenhall Fellow: Carleton R. Bern, (303) 236-1024, 
Duty Station: Denver, CO
Start Date: October 22, 2008
Education: Ph.D., 2006, Ecology, University of Colorado
Research Advisors: George Breit, (303) 236-4951,; Richard Heal,y (303) 236-5392,; Geneva Chong, (307) 733-9212,; Marith Reheis, (303) 236-1270,
  Carleton R. Bern

Project Description: Soils and water are crucial resources for society and the natural and managed ecosystems on which society depends. In addition to quantity, the quality of both resources determines their suitability for different uses. Particularly in arid and semi-arid landscapes, salts impact the quality of soils and water and alter their suitability for sustaining agriculture or ecosystems. The focus of this research project is on the mobilization and fate of salts in soil in relationship to energy development in northeastern Wyoming. By touching on water, energy, and ecosystem issues, this project addresses three of the strategic focus areas for U.S.Geological Survey science.

Powder River Basin, Wyoming   In Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, private companies are putting the water co-produced during coal-bed methane (CBM) development to use through irrigation of forage crops. The strategy disposes of CBM water by transferring it to the atmosphere via evapotranspiration and dramatically increases the productivity of semi-arid rangeland. The often high solute content and sodium-bicarbonate chemistry of CBM waters require careful management during irrigation. Subsurface drip irrigation (SDI) is a strategy that has been used to manage salinity issues in other semi-arid settings, but the irrigation lines are usually placed at shallow (>30 cm) depths. SDI operations in the Powder River Basin often place irrigation lines almost a meter below the surface in association with a deep-rooted crop like alfalfa. The dynamics of water and solute movement in response to such deep irrigation inputs are incompletely understood but should create zones of both solute leaching and accumulation. Soils of the Powder River Basin also contain native carbonate, sulfate, nitrate and chloride salts that can be redistributed by irrigation waters.


The goal of the project is to use computer models to simulate and better understand the complex transport processes and geochemical transformations that will control the fate of native and introduced salts in SDI fields. Data for calibrating and validating the models will come from laboratory analysis of soils and arrays of electronic sensors that record the real-time movement of water and solutes in irrigated fields. A more detailed understanding of salt movement in select Powder River Basin soils can help refine the design and management of SDI systems. It can also help guide management of saline soils and waters in other arid and semi-arid landscapes.

  Diagram ilustrating subsurface drip irrigation (SDI)


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Last modified: 16:08:26 Thu 13 Dec 2012