Hotspot: The Snake River Geothermal Drilling Project - An Overview

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Conference Proceeding

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The Snake River volcanic province (SRP) overlies a thermal anomaly that extends deep into the mantle; it represents one of the highest heat flow provinces in North America, and an area with the highest calculated geothermal gradients. This makes the SRP one of the potentially highest producing geothermal districts in the United States. Elevated heat flow is typically highest along the margins of the topographic Snake River Plain and lowest along the axis of the plain, where thermal gradients are suppressed by the Snake River aquifer. Beneath this aquifer, however, thermal gradients rise again and may tap even higher heat flows associated with the intrusion of mafic magmas into a geophysically-imaged mid-crustal sill complex. The primary goal of this project is to evaluate geothermal potential in three distinct settings: (1) the high sub-aquifer geothermal gradient associated with the intrusion of mafic magmas and the release of crustal fluids from the associated wall rocks, (2) the valley-margin settings where surface heat flow may be driven by the up-flow of hot fluids along buried caldera ring-fault complexes, and (3) a more traditional fault-bounded basin with thick sedimentary cover. All settings are found within the central or western Snake River Plain and represent previously untested targets for geothermal exploration. Our first drill site tests the extent of geothermal resources along the axis of the plain, beneath the Snake River aquifer, in an area where elevated groundwater temperatures imply a significant flux of conductive or advective heat flow from below. Our second drill site assesses the geothermal potential of up-flow zones along a buried caldera margin, in an area of known geothermal potential (Twin Falls geothermal district). Further studies will include seismic reflection-refraction surveys, gravity-magnetic surveys, and downhole geophysical logs.


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