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Mapping geothermal resources from space

April 17, 2015 6:48 pm

The data comes from Europe’s GOCE satellite, which mapped the Earth’s gravity field between 2009 and 2013.

The satellite’s data is expected to narrow the search for prime spots to put future power stations, with the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) releasing the information in a special global atlas.

In parallel, GOCE scientists have been discussing the work at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly in Vienna, Austria.

Although a large potential resource, geothermal currently accounts for less than one percent of the world’s electricity generation – in part due to the huge costs of exploration.

GOCE’s maps are expected to shortcut some of that effort by pinpointing regions with favourable characteristics such as a relatively thin continental crust.

As it flew around the planet, the satellite was able to observe tiny differences in the pull of gravity from one place to the next – a function of the uneven distribution of mass beneath it.

The variation in signal was most obvious over large mountains and over deep ocean trenches but, by processing the data in special ways, scientists were also able to tease out details of different rock layers and structures.