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CSM begins study of geothermal resource

Since Monday, local residents may have noticed young folks in orange work vests manipulating strange machines and getting a lay of the land.

The science nerds are upon us.

In fact, between 85 and 90 people will be working in Pagosa Country until Memorial Day Weekend, with graduate students and faculty from the Colorado School of Mines studying various characteristics of the area’s geothermal aquifer.

Following a meeting last October between CSM faculty and local representatives, the school’s geophysics department determined that the area would be a good fit for training and providing field experience for students. In return, the area will receive invaluable data from the most comprehensive study yet conducted on the aquifer.

That research, led by Dr. Terry Young (head of the Geophysics department), Dr. Michael Batzle and Dr. André Revil (both professors of geophysics) involves two primary studies: deep seismic profiles made of a portion of the aquifer and passive, “geoelectrical methods” of data collection — “including self-potential, electrical resistivity, and induced polarization” — that Revil describes on his website.

As far as deep seismic profiling, Young said last fall that, “The technique is very similar to medical technology, such as an MRI or a CAT scan.”

What Young meant was that significantly large sound waves are directed beneath the earth’s surface, allowing a computer to translate the received echoes as shapes and depths (much in the way that an MRI — Magnetic Resonance Imaging — provides three dimensional images of a patient).

Those sound waves are generated through the use of so-called “thumper trucks” — 60,000-pound pieces of equipment that generate controlled seismic energy.

Through both reflection and refraction, seismic surveys of the subterranean topography are achieved as seismic waves, travelling through a medium such as water or layers of rocks, are recorded by receivers, such as geophones or hydrophones.

Revil’s research, on the other hand, measures electrical signals associated with the movement of water in porous, fractured materials to locate the movement and characteristics of geothermal water.

During last October’s meeting, Gerry Huttrer, president of Geothermal Management, Inc. and lead on research currently underway regarding the hydrologic characteristics of the aquifer, stated that the team’s findings would not only supplement the data his team hopes to generate, but added that, “This research would normally come at a great expense and this is a great opportunity to get this done for far less than what you would normally be paying.”

As that research winds up, local residents will have an opportunity to hear preliminary results from the various studies conducted over the next week-and-a-half.

On May 21, local middle school and high school students with an interest in geothermal will have an opportunity to view the testing. On Thursday, May 24, at 7:30 p.m. at the high school, the CSM students will make a community presentation on their experience in Pagosa and what they will do with the data collected here.

Provided a positive experience in Pagosa Country and a need for further research, the CSM group could return next year for another round of study.

If the local geothermal resource is, as many have hypothesized, a key to future economic development in the area, the generosity and hospitality of area residents won’t just benefit several dozen graduate students, researchers and professors — it will, most likely, end up with the success of Pagosans for generations to come.

Thus, a hearty and genuine Pagosa welcome benefits everyone involved, so show a science nerd some love during the next week or so. Like it says on the T-shirt, “Nerds Rule!”

jim@pagosasun.com

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