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Kolker, A.M., 2008

Geologic setting of the central Alaskan Hot Springs Belt: Implications for geothermal resource capacity and sustainable energy production

Bibliographic Reference

Kolker, A.M., 2008, Geologic setting of the central Alaskan Hot Springs Belt: Implications for geothermal resource capacity and sustainable energy production: University of Alaska Fairbanks, Ph.D. dissertation, 189 p.


The Central Alaska Hot Springs Belt (CAHSB) is a vast stretch of low-temperature hydrothermal systems that has the potential to be a geothermal energy resource for remote communities in Alaska. Little exploration has occurred in the CAHSB and the resource is poorly understood. A geothermal power plant was installed in 2006 at Chena Hot Springs (CHS), one of the 30-plus hot springs in the CAHSB. This, in addition to the multiple direct- use projects at CHS, could serve as a model for geothermal development elsewhere in the CAHSB. This dissertation evaluates the geologic setting of the CAHSB and explores the implications for resource capacity and sustainable energy production. The local geology and geochemical characteristics of CHS are characterized, with a focus on identifying ultimate heat source responsible for the hot springs. A radiogenic heat source model is proposed and tested for the entire CAHSB, wherein the anomalously radioactive plutons that are associated with nearly every hot spring are providing the source of heat driving the geothermal activity. This model appears to be feasible mechanism for the observed heat transfer. This implies that CAHSB 'reservoir' fluids are probably low-temperature. It also suggests that individual hydrothermal systems are small-scale and localized features, unlike the types of hydrothermal systems that are conventionally exploited for energy (i.e., those that derive their heat from magmatic or deep crustal sources, which have higher reservoir temperatures and larger spatial extent). In this context, the individual capacity of several CAHSB resources close to communities is assessed, and a preliminary evaluation of the sustainability of the power production scheme at CHS is given. As another approach to the question of sustainability, this dissertation explores the ways in which external benefits of geothermal energy can influence the economics of a project. In sum, producing geothermal energy from CAHSB resources is somewhat risky at the present time, though it may be less risky than continued use of diesel fuel. The risks of geothermal development could be greatly reduced by rapid and immediate exploration efforts to collect much-needed data about CAHSB geothermal resources.

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