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Living With Volcanoes

The Plus Side of Volcanoes
Geothermal Energy

Image, Newberry Caldera
Newberry85_newberry_caldera_obsidian_flow_08-20-85.jpg
Newberry Caldera, with the Big Obsidian Flow. Paulina Lake is on the left and East Lake is on the right.
USGS Photo taken August 20, 1985, by Lyn Topinka.
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The Earth's crust, on which we live and depend, is in large part the product of millions of once-active volcanoes and tremendous volumes of magma that did not erupt but instead cooled below the surface. Such persistent and widespread volcanism has resulted in many valuable natural resources throughout the world. ... Groundwater heated by large, still-hot magma bodies can be tapped for geothermal energy. -- Excerpt from: Brantley, 1994, Volcanoes of the United States, USGS General Interest Publication


The internal heat associated with young volcanic systems has been harnessed to produce geothermal energy. For example, the electrical energy generated from The Geysers geothermal field in northern California can meet the present power consumption of the city of San Francisco. -- Excerpt from: Tilling, 1985, Volcanoes: USGS General Interest Publication


Geothermal energy can be harnessed from the Earth's natural heat associated with active volcanoes or geologically young inactive volcanoes still giving off heat at depth. Steam from high-temperature geothermal fluids can be used to drive turbines and generate electrical power, while lower temperature fluids provide hot water for space-heating purposes, heat for greenhouses and industrial uses, and hot or warm springs at resort spas. For example, geothermal heat warms more than 70 percent of the homes in Iceland, and The Geysers geothermal field near Santa Rosa, in Northern California produces enough electricity to meet the power demands of San Francisco. The Geysers area is the largest geothermal development in the world. In addition to being an energy resource, some geothermal waters also contain sulfur, gold, silver, and mercury that can be recovered as a byproduct of energy production. -- Excerpt from: Kious and Tilling, 1996, This Dynamic Earth: The Story of Plate Tectonics: USGS General Interest Publication


Kilauea, Hawaii

In recent years, volcanic energy has been harnessed by a geothermal power plant on Kilauea's east rift zone; the three megawatts of electricity produced are fed into the grid of the local utility company. Much larger capacity geothermal development is under discussion. -- Excerpt from: Tilling, Heliker, and Wright, 1987, Eruptions of Hawaiian Volcanoes: Past, Present, and Future: USGS General Interest Publication


Newberry Caldera, Oregon

Geologically young volcanoes found in our area suggest that central Oregon may contain some of the best prospects for geothermal exploration in the continental United States. One study done at Newberry Volcano estimated the energy potential to be up to 13,000 megawatts. Another study by Bonneville Power Administration estimates a 16,000 megawatt potential. -- Information courtesy USFS, Deschutes National Forest Website, 2000


The Geysers, California

The Geysers geothermal field near Santa Rosa, in Northern California produces enough electricity to meet the power demands of San Francisco. The Geysers area is the largest geothermal development in the world. -- Excerpt from: Kious and Tilling, 1996, This Dynamic Earth: The Story of Plate Tectonics: USGS General Interest Publication

Gravity and teleseismic studies suggest that a large silicic magma chamber, approximately 14 kilometers in diameter, lies 7 kilometers and deeper beneath the (Clear Lake) volcanic field. This reservoir is thought to be the heat source for the Geysers geothermal field (on the southwest side of the volcanic field), which is the largest producing geothermal field in the world, with installed electrical generating capacity of around 2,000 megawatts in 1988, enough electricity for about two cities the size of San Francisco. -- Excerpt from: Wood and Kienle, 1990, Volcanoes of North America: United States and Canada: Cambridge University Press, 354p., p.226-229, Contribution by Julie M. Donnelly-Nolan


Casa Diablo, Long Valley Caldera, California

Wells drilled at Casa Diablo, on the southwest side of Long Valley's resurgent dome, tap into the caldera's hydrothermal system by pumping hot water at temperatures near 170 degrees C to supply three geothermal power plants that generate about 40 megawatts of electricity. Cooled geothermal water from the plants is injected back underground. -- Courtesy of: U.S. Geological Survey's Long Valley Monitoring Project - Hydrologic Studies, 1997


Salton Sea Geothermal Field, California

The Salton Buttes lie within the Salton Sea geothermal field, where temperatures at 1.5 to 2.5 kilometers reach 360 degrees C, and sediments of the Colorado River delta are begin metamorphosed to greenschist facies. -- Excerpt from: Wood and Kienle, 1990, Volcanoes of North America: United States and Canada: Cambridge University Press, 354p., p.245, Contribution by: L. J. Patrick Muffler

The Salton Sea geothermal field lies in the Salton Trough, the landward extension of the Gulf of California, an area of active crustal spreading. The Salton Buttes volcanoes lie within the Salton Sea geothermal field where temperatures measured in wells drilled for geothermal brines range up to 360 degrees C at depths of 1,500 to 2,500 meters (Helgeson, 1968). The wells produce a hot brine containing up to 160,000 ppm of dissolved solids, chiefly Cl, Na, K, Ca, and Fe (White, 1968). Under the influence of this hot saline brine, the sediments of the Salton Trough are being transformed into metamorphic rocks of the greenschist facies (Muffler and White, 1969). -- Excerpt from: Robinson, Elders, and Muffler, 1976, Quaternary volcanism in the Salton Sea geothermal field, Imperial Valley, California: GSA Bulletin 87, p.347-360, March 1976


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07/13/09, Lyn Topinka