Monday May 28th, 2018 1:19AM

New Zealand quake scientists discover surprise: Hot water

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — When researchers in New Zealand drilled deep into an earthquake fault, they stumbled upon a discovery they say could provide a significant new energy source for the South Pacific nation.

The scientists found the water in the Alpine Fault was much hotter than expected, and could potentially be harnessed to generate electricity or provide direct heating in industries like dairy farming.

The finding was surprising because geothermal energy is usually associated with volcanic activity, but there are no volcanoes where the scientists drilled. Because the Alpine Fault stretches for hundreds of kilometers (miles) like a spine along the country's South Island, the energy source could be enormous.

Led by Victoria University of Wellington professor Rupert Sutherland, the study was published Thursday in the journal Nature.

Sutherland said the intention of the study near the popular tourist destination of Franz Josef Glacier was to collect rock cores and install monitoring equipment rather than gauge water temperatures, but researchers are excited about their unexpected findings.

"Economically, it could be very significant for New Zealand," Sutherland told The Associated Press in an interview. "It's a totally new paradigm."

In their study, the scientists say they believe two actions are creating the hot water.

First, they say, previous earthquakes have moved hot rocks up from deep within the Earth into the mountains along the fault line.

Second, the shaking has broken up the rocks, allowing rain water and snow melt to quickly percolate through the hot interior of the mountains, which concentrates the heat beneath the valleys.

Sutherland said they found the water in the fault reached 100 degrees Celsius (212 Fahrenheit) at a depth of 630 meters (2,100 feet). Water typically gets progressively hotter with depth, but under normal conditions it doesn't reach that temperature until about 3 kilometers (2 miles) underground.

One hundred Celsius is boiling point on the Earth's surface, although water doesn't boil underground because it remains under pressure, much like the liquid inside a pressure cooker.

The Alpine Fault is among the most active faults in the world. It typically creates large earthquakes about once every 300 years, and scientists figure there is about a one-third chance it will rupture again in the next few decades. The resulting quake could devastate some New Zealand towns, although the fault is not located near any large cities.

Sutherland said the discovery of the hot water doesn't have any bearing on predicting when the next quake might hit.

He said before any commercial ventures begin, scientists will need to determine the extent of the hot water, what purposes it could be used for, how easy it is to extract, and whether it can be done safely. He said he didn't think removing water from the fault would risk triggering a quake but scientists would need to study that question as well.

New Zealand already generates about 15 percent of its electricity from geothermal sources, most of it from the Taupo volcanic zone in the central North Island. Sutherland said the declining coal mining industry in the South Island could provide needed expertise, engineering and infrastructure for any new geothermal ventures on the Alpine Fault.

He said the hot water could potentially be used by the dairy industry as a heating source to dry milk. Milk powder is one of the nation's largest exports.

Dave Craw, a professor at New Zealand's University of Otago who was not involved in the study, said that in a global context, the high temperatures found in the fault are very unusual.

"The famous San Andreas Fault of California was drilled in a similar way to this New Zealand borehole, and the temperatures and thermal gradient encountered there were much lower than the Alpine Fault," Craw wrote in an email. "The Alpine Fault is a spectacular thermal anomaly for an area without active volcanic activity."

Bill Ellsworth, a professor at Stanford University who helped review safety aspects of the study but who was not involved in the research, said that because elevated fluid pressures weaken faults, the study's findings also have important implications for understanding the workings of quakes on similar faults around the world.

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP World News, AP Business, AP Business - Industries, AP Business - Utilities
© Copyright 2018
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
The Latest: Graham says it's good Trump is leaving town
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham says President Donald Trump's trip to the Middle East and Europe comes at a good time
1:01PM ( 4 minutes ago )
Around round of premium hikes brewing: blame Trump or Obama?
Another year of big premium increases and dwindling choice is looking like a distinct possibility for many consumers who buy their own health insurance _ but why, and who's to blame?
1:00PM ( 6 minutes ago )
The Latest: French foreign minister sees playing vital role
France's new foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian (John-Eve Le DREE-on), has vowed to promote the country's "key role" in the international community
12:58PM ( 7 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
French president's Cabinet mixes old and new, left and right
French President Emmanuel Macron has named prominent and unknown figures from the left and the right to his Cabinet
12:24PM ( 41 minutes ago )
Irish leader Enda Kenny stepping down as head of his party
Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny says he is resigning as leader of the Fine Gael party, paving the way for his replacement as the country's head of government
12:24PM ( 41 minutes ago )
Puerto Rico militant freed from custody after 36 years
Puerto Rico nationalist Oscar Lopez Rivera has been freed from house arrest after decades in custody in a case that transformed him into a martyr for his supporters but had outraged those who lost loved ones in a string of deadly bombings
12:23PM ( 42 minutes ago )
AP World News
Banks lead US stock indexes lower in midday trading; oil up
Financial companies are leading U.S. stocks sharply lower in early trading as investors fret over the potential fallout roiling the Trump administration
12:20PM ( 45 minutes ago )
Target profit rises, though a key sales measure falls
Target profit rises almost 8 percent, sales at established stores drop less than expected
11:33AM ( 1 hour ago )
O'Brien re-ups with TBS; CBS pairs 'Big Bang' & spin-off
CBS will pair "The Big Bang Theory" with its spin-off sibling this fall. Turner says TBS has closed a new deal with Conan O'Brien that runs through 2022.
10:29AM ( 2 hours ago )
AP Business
More health insurance woes looming: blame Trump or Obama?
Another year of big premium increases and dwindling choice is looking like a distinct possibility for many consumers who buy their seized on early market rumbles as validation of his claim that "Obamacare" is collapsing.
3:55AM ( 9 hours ago )
Democrats' debate for Virginia governor a study in nuance
Democratic hopefuls for governor of Virginia clash over proposed gas pipelines and each other's past positions on gun rights and abortion
10:46PM ( 14 hours ago )
California utility sued by warehouse fire victim relatives
Attorneys representing the families of people who died in a Northern California warehouse fire that broke out during an unlicensed concert plan to file a consolidated lawsuit against the building's owner and manager
6:12PM ( 18 hours ago )
AP Business - Industries
Global stocks higher after Wall Street spurt
Global stock markets have mostly risen despite weaker Chinese economic data after Wall Street's spurt on higher oil prices
4:52AM ( 1 day ago )
Chinese stocks fall on weak data; other Asian markets rise
Chinese stocks have fallen on weaker economic data while other Asian markets rose after Wall Street climbed on a spurt in oil prices
1:50AM ( 1 day ago )
Asian stocks mixed after Wall Street rise
Chinese stocks have fallen on weaker economic data and other Asian markets are little-changed after Wall Street climbed on a spurt in oil prices
11:55PM ( 1 day ago )
AP Business - Utilities
The Latest: French foreign minister sees playing vital role
France's new foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian (John-Eve Le DREE-on), has vowed to promote the country's "key role" in the international community
12:58PM ( 7 minutes ago )
Worst treatment ever, Trump grumbles; Dems demand deep probe
President Trump complained Wednesday that "no politician in history" has been treated worse. Democrats demanded an independent commission to dig into his firing of FBI Director James Comey. House Speaker Paul Ryan cautioned against "rushing to judgment."
12:57PM ( 9 minutes ago )
Qualcomm: Apple is pressuring contractors in patent dispute
An escalating battle between Apple and Qualcomm over money and patent rights is drawing in Taiwanese contractors that assemble Apple's iPhones
12:52PM ( 14 minutes ago )
Trump lashes out at critics, 'naysayers,' unfair treatment
President Donald Trump is lashing out at his "critics and naysayers" following more than a week of negative news coverage beginning with his sudden decision to fire James Comey as FBI director
12:48PM ( 17 minutes ago )
New Orleans takes down 3rd Confederate-era monument
Workers in New Orleans have taken down a Confederate monument to Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, the third of four such statues to come down in the city
12:34PM ( 31 minutes ago )