21 December 2015

Water for ungulates

Rocky Mountain Elk at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Rocky Mountain Elk at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Los Alamos National Laboratory

A dusting of snow, elk lapping from a stream, pines perfuming the air: As a winter wonderland, nothing is lacking — with the possible exception of a certain jolly old elf.

This week at the lab, that seasonal postcard is coming to life at the National MagLab’s Pulsed Field Facility, located at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in northern New Mexico. Although the herds of elk and mule deer don’t realize it, that cool, stream water comes courtesy of the facility’s pulsed magnets, including the world-record 100 tesla multi-shot magnet.

To create such high fields, those magnets require massive bursts of energy from a 1.4 gigawatt 60-foot tall generator – which in turn produces intense heat. To keep things cool, 2,500 gallons of water per minute run through the generator when it’s in operation. After that water is treated as part of a LANL water reuse program, about 28,000 gallons a month is released into the surrounding Pajarito Plateau, home to the elk, bear, mountain lions and other wildlife.

Because the cooling system must be flushed regularly, research technologist Yates Coulter will be clocking in at the lab even over the holidays, helping keep the local ungulates — and any visitors that might pass through this week – hydrated. Coulter will also perform another critical maintenance task: letting the generator’s 120-foot-long shaft slowly turn for a few hours a week. If the 240-ton metal bar is left idle for too long, it will bend under its own weight.

Coulter doesn't mind coming into the lab when most people are off: each commute is another chance to commune with nature, regardless of the season. "For me the wildlife are familiar friends," said Coulter, who also encounters his furry and feathered friends during lunchtime bike rides around LANL. "They are a comforting sight."


Image courtesy of Los Alamos National Laboratory / Text by Kristen Coyne

Last modified on 20 December 2015