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SMU Geothermal Map Updated, National Geothermal Data System Underway

Southern Methodist University Geothermal Lab has recently completed research updating the U.S. portion of the 2004 Geothermal Map of North America.

“This multi-year effort, supported by a generous grant from Google.org, includes the addition of over 15,000 new data points and has allowed us to improve the precision and detail of heat flow and temperature-at-depth maps for the United States,” SMU Geothermal Lab Coordinator Maria Richards said in an update. With these additions, there are now over 30,000 data points used in the contouring of the temperature maps.

Graduate students Zach Frone, Joe Batir, Mitchell Williams, Ryan Dingwall, Andrés Ruzo and Nicole Sica worked on this project. 

“There was particular focus on the eastern U.S. resources at a regional level,” Richards added.  In particular, researchers unexpectedly discovered geothermal hot spots in West Virginia, at temperatures up to 200°C and as shallow as 5 kilometers — unprecedented in the eastern U.S.

“SMU's effort shows that there is still a lot to learn about geothermal resources and potential in unexpected areas, like West Virginia,” said Karl Gawell, Executive Director of the Geothermal Energy Association.  “That's why we support launching a national geothermal exploration initiative with the goal of developing a strategic geothermal resource of at least 50,000 MW in identified new prospect areas.” 

The West Virginia findings were presented at the 2010 Geothermal Resources Council annual meeting.  “The temperatures are high enough to make this the most attractive area for Geothermal Energy development in the eastern 1/3 of the country,” according to the report abstract.  “The heat in place is sufficient to support large scale development of Enhanced Geothermal Systems.”

With the mapping completed, Richards and the SMU Geothermal Lab are now concentrating on a DOE-supported collaboration with seven other groups to aggregate geothermal-related information in a National Geothermal Data System.  SMU has over 40 years of geothermal research that will soon be accessible to industry stakeholders, researchers and the public at large. 

“Siemens Corporate Research is building the data system framework for the SMU Team portal for the NGDS,” Richards added.  “The design creates a source for easily accessing information for users from a wide range of backgrounds.  The ability to find existing information on all aspects of geothermal exploration will reduce the risk, and therefore the cost, of geothermal project development.”

The NGDS is intended to help mitigate the up-front risks of identifying sites for geothermal development by serving as a central source of known information on geothermal resources.   

Partners on the project include the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas, Cornell University, the Geothermal Resources Council, MLKay Technologies, Texas Tech University, and the University of North Dakota.

This story was originally published in GEA's newsletter - the Geothermal Energy Weekly and was republished with permission.

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Leslie is located in Washington DC at the Office of the Geothermal Energy Association and serves on the Renewable Energy World North America Conference and Expo committee.

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