Researchers Stumble Upon Potentially New Energy Source While Drilling Into An Earthquake Fault
During the course of a research study, scientists stumbled on a significant discovery that could well prove to be a potential energy source. While drilling deep into the Alpine Fault in New Zealand, the researchers discovered water, which was much hotter than expected.
The researchers deduce that if harnessed properly, this hot water could generate electricity and may provide industries such as dairy farming with direct heating. The discovery was a surprise as hot water or geothermal energy underneath the Earth's surface is normally linked with volcanic activity.
However, the area where the scientists drilled had no volcanoes. The researchers also predict that the energy source could have a massive presence as the Alpine Fault, which was drilled, extends for hundreds of miles along New Zealand's South Island. The drill site is located close to New Zealand's popular tourist destination Franz Josef Glacier.
Hot Water Underneath New Zealand Mountain A Potential Energy Source?
University of Wellington's Professor Rupert Sutherland led the study, which was conducted with the aim to install some monitoring equipment and assemble rock cores. However, this sudden discovery has charged-up the scientists and they are quite excited about the unexpected finding.
"Economically, it could be very significant for New Zealand. It's a totally new paradigm," Sutherland told ABC News.
The researchers arrived at two conclusions, which could explain the creation of the hot water found underneath the fault line. Researchers suggest that hot rocks may have gotten displaced during previous earthquakes and likely moved up into the mountain's fault, resulting in the hot water's formation.
The scientists also believe that previous Earthquakes' shaking may have broken the rocks, enabling the snow melt and rain water to seamlessly permeate through the mountain's hot interiors. This concentrates the heat that is underneath the vales.
Sutherland stated that the water found at the depth of 630 meters reached up to 100 degree Celsius in temperature. Older theories suggest that water gains heat as the depth increases. However, in normal conditions, the temperature recorded for the water underneath the Alpine Fault at 630 meters is found only when one reaches about 2 miles (3 kms) underground.
Sutherland eliminated any possibility of a future earthquake resulting from the Alpine Fault's movement. He stated that the hot water discovery in no way predicts a definite timeline for the next earthquake.
Alpine Fault is one of the most active faults in the world that causes massive earthquakes once every 300 years. Sutherland and his team clearly specified that before industries decided to tap into this virgin energy source, scientists will need to explore, understand, and determine the amount and extent of hot water present in the area and the manner in which it can be harnessed.
They will also need to strategize a safe extraction plan for the hot water without harming the environment. New Zealand currently harnesses 15 percent of the country's electricity from the numerous geothermal sources, most of which comes from the volcanic Taupo zone in the central North Island.
The study's findings are published in the journal Nature.