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Geothermal results presented tonight

Graduate students and faculty members from the Colorado School of Mines will present findings from nearly two weeks of study on the area’s geothermal aquifer tonight at 7 p.m. in the Pagosa Springs High School auditorium.

Between 85 and 90 people from CSM have been working in Pagosa Country since early last week, studying various characteristics of the area’s geothermal aquifer.

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

That research, led by Dr. Terry Young (head of the geophysics department), and 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 CT 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.”

Tonight, local residents will have an opportunity to hear preliminary results from the various studies conducted over the past week and a half.

The CSM group was feted last Wednesday, May 16, when local residents made their way to the Archuleta County Extension Office’s Exhibition Hall (where the group has been staging its work) to fete their guests with a potluck dinner, providing homemade fare, as well as a few choices from local restaurants.

“I was honored to serve these great young people dinner,” said Archuleta County Commissioner Michael Whiting after the potluck. “When Ross (Pagosa Springs Mayor Aragon) asked me to take on the GGP over three years ago, it was my strong opinion that the central purpose of the GGP must be as a signal to the rest of the world that we are committed and focused on our local renewable energy and that they should be also. The Mines folks being here, and the half dozen other projects looking at Archuleta County, are all indications that it is doing just that.”

The group returned the favor of tasty grub this past week when CSM students and faculty guided local area students interested in geothermal energy and geophysics through their work, inspiring more than a few to consider future educational options and careers in developing the area’s geothermal resources.

On Monday, a group of 25 students from Pagosa Springs middle and high schools visited the researcher’s field camp, learning about the methods of study. While there, students were able to interact with equipment the teams are utilizing to help map the geothermal aquifer under Archuleta County.

Students traveled by van out to where the giant thumper trucks were creating small earthquakes when they were activated. Students also utilized radar and sonar devices which allowed them to locate abnormalities under the surface of the earth (such as a buried hammer and robotic arm).

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.

Tonight’s presentation is free and open to the public.

jim@pagosasun.com

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