Submarine Geothermal Resources

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Journal Article: Submarine Geothermal Resources

Approximately 20% of the earth's heat loss (or 2 _ 1012 cal/s) is released through 1% of the earth's surface area and takes the form of hydrothermal discharge from young (Pleistocene or younger) rocks adjacent to active seafloor-spreading centers and submarine volcanic areas. This amount is roughly equivalent to man's present gross energy consumption rate. A sub-seafloor geothermal reservoir, to be exploitable under future economic conditions, will have to be hot, porous, permeable, large, shallow, and near an energy-deficient, populated land mass. Furthermore, the energy must be recoverable using technology achievable at a competitive cost and numerous environmental, legal and institutional problems will have to be overcome. The highest-temperature reservoirs should be found adjacent to the zones of the seafloor extension or volcanism that are subject to high sedimentation rates. The relatively impermeable sediments reduce hydrothermal-discharge flow rates, forcing the heat to be either conducted away or released by high-temperature fluids, both of which lead to reservoir temperatures that can exceed 300°C. There is evidence that the oceanic crust is quite permeable and porous and that it was amenable to deep (3-5 km) penetration by seawater at least some time in the early stages of its evolution. Most of the heat escapes far from land, but there are notable exceptions. For example, in parts of the Gulf of California, thermal gradients in the bottom sediments exceed 1°C/m. In the coastal areas of the Gulf of California, where electricity and fresh water are at a premium, this potential resource lies in shallow water (< 200 m) and within sight of land. Other interesting areas include the Sea of Japan, the Sea of Okhotsk and the Andaman Sea along the margins of the western Pacific, the Tyrrhenian Sea west of Italy, and the southern California borderland and west flank of the Juan de Fuca Ridge off the west coast of the United States. Many questions remain to be answered about the physical and other characteristics of these systems before they can be considered a viable resource. Until several of the most promising areas are carefully defined and drilled, the problem will remain unresolved.

David L. Williams

Published Journal 
Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, 1976

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David L. Williams. 1976. Submarine Geothermal Resources. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research. (!) .