UMass hydrologist needs samples for water composition map

  • University of Massachusetts Amherst hydrologist David Boutt seeks water samplesto help him create a new online high-resolution map and database that displays the composition of water throughout the region. SUBMITTED PHOtO

For the Gazette
Published: 9/24/2016 3:06:00 AM

AMHERST — By this time next year, a University of Massachusetts Amherst hydrologist hopes to unveil a new high-resolution map and database that displays the composition of water throughout the region.

David Boutt believes that the tool will give citizens critical information about the water composition that impacts them, such as what part of the world the water comes from.

But before he can create the online map, Boutt is seeking water samples from citizens. The samples can come from a variety of places, including privately owned wells.

The project is funded by a $50,000 grant Boutt received from the U.S. Geological Survey.

The work calls for Boutt to collect samples to study the isotopic composition of the surface water, groundwater, and precipitation that enters the ecosystems. Measuring these isotopes will show where the rain came from, whether it be the Pacific, the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic, or the Arctic.

Boutt said the study will show how climate can affect water, and help plan for the hydrologic future of New England.

“The goal is improving our understanding of the processes that are impacting how water is moving into the ground and how it is leaving. We still as a science community have a very superficial understanding of how it works,” said Boutt.

Water can be composed of multiple hydrogen and oxygen isotopes, and the varying composition shows how the water interacts with parts of a watershed and reveals its flow path. These isotopes make up natural chemical signatures, which are the isotopes found in water at differing stages of the water cycle.

The high-resolution map and database of natural chemical signatures Boutt is creating will display the isotopic composition of groundwater across the state.

“In the future, it’ll be an important baseline to help us understand changes,” said Boutt.

The hydrologist said the database is particularly relevant now as the region copes with the drought. Having an understanding of the hydrologic cycle can help people have a better grasp on how droughts occur.

“If we know how long an isotope stays in the aquifer, we can understand how vulnerable their water supply is to a drought like this,” said Boutt.

He also pointed out that the current drought is something people should be aware of, but not a reason for concern.

He said that droughts are a normal part of the water cycle, and that the region’s water supply is in good shape.

The current conditions are not even close to the dry spell experienced during the five-year drought from 1962 to 1967, when the water levels in the Quabbin Reservoir were 20 feet lower than they are now.

“It’s something we need to keep an eye on, and just be cautious and know that even in the wet Northeast we are susceptible to these dry periods,” he said.

People who are interested in donating samples to the team’s study can contact Boutt at 413-545-2724 or He will provide sample collection instructions at that time.

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