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General Interests.

Regional heat flow studies; thermal state of the lithosphere; heat flow and mid-plate volcanism; geophysical characterization of geothermal systems; thermal aspects of plate interactions; thermal aspects of groundwater flow; influence of lithospheric thermal state on its mechanical behavior; thermal histories of sedimentary basins; heat flow and hydrothermal circulation in the sea floor; and climate change inferred from borehole temperatures.


Research Projects Involving Graduate Students:

Climate Change Inferred From Borehole Temperature Profiles.

Rob Harris (Ph.D. Univ. Utah, now faculty at Oregon State Univ.) has analyzed borehole temperature profiles to infer the last 500 years of temperature change at the Earth's surface and has developed techniques to compare these histories with surface air temperature data and proxy records of temperature change for the period of overlap. These techniques are being applied globally and have important implications in the global warming debate. Former students have used a weather station colocated with a 150 m borehole (Emigrant Pass Observatory) to study the tracking of ground and air temperatures, and investigate effects on that tracking. Scott Putnam built the original observatory and investigated tracking at time scales between minutes and years. Marshall Bartlett (PhD. Univ. Utah, now at BYU-Hawaii) used the observatory data and a simple, but complete, snow model to quantify the effect of snow on the ground temperature record. His work at the observatory was then extended to the entire Northern Hemisphere.

Mike Davis (B.S. Univ Utah, M.S. Univ. Hawaii) is currently investigating the ground surface energy balance using the Emigrant Pass Observatory and new observatories being built in the Pacific Northwest, with particular emphasis on the role of land-use change.

Subsurface Investigations with High-Prevision Gravity, GPS and InSAR.

Paul Gettings (B.A. U. Chicago, M.S. U. Utah) is using repeated high-precision (~5 uGal) gravity measurements to understand fluid-flow behavior in subsurface reservoirs. Repeated high-precision gravity measurements provide direct measurements of subsurface mass changes over time. Given the low cost of gravity observations, comprehensive spatial and temporal coverage of large reservoirs is possible. The method is applicable to any subsurface reservoir with mass change over time, including petroleum/gas reservoirs, geothermal systems, and ground water reservoirs. Gravity data, coupled with GPS and/or InSAR, which give a measure of elevation changes, are being used to understand the elastic and inelastic response of aquifer systems to groundwater withdrawal and recharge.

Christian Hardwick (B.S. U. Utah) is using high-precision gravity measurements in central and southern Utah to look for structurally-controlled blind geothermal resources. The interpretation techniques being developed for this project will also find applicability in fault-hunting for seismic hazard assessment in urban areas, such as Salt Lake City.

Thermal Isostasy of the Continents

Derrick Hasterok (B.S. Caltech, M.S. & Ph.D. U. Utah) is conducting research into the thermal state of the continents. Using a combination of elevation, heat flow, and seismic data, Derrick is determining why parts of continents are at the elevation they are. This research will ultimately culminate in the ability to use aggregate data for a province to determine whether it is in steady state.

Thermal and Electrical Structure of the Colorado Plateau-Great Basin Transition Zone

Derrick Hasterok (B.S. Caltech, M.S. U. Utah) is conducting research into the thermal and electrical state of the CP-GB transition zone. Using magnetotelluric and thermal data as inputs to 2- and 3-d models of the zone, Derrick will determine the history and current state of the transition zone crust. This work is being done in close cooperation with Phil Wannemaker at the Energy & Geosciences Institute.

Noble Gas Tracers for Groundwater Flow

Melissa Masbruch (B.S. U. Utah, M.S. U. Wisconsin-Madison) is researching aspects of using noble gas tracers for determining groundwater flow paths. In particular, Melissa is looking at how to best determine the recharge temperature, which has a direct bearing on the noble gas concentrations used to infer flowpaths.

Erosion of Active Mountain Belts.

How does topography develop in active tectonic regimes? Todd Ehlers (B.S. Calvin College, M.S. x2 Univ. Utah, Ph.D. Univ. Utah ) is addressing this problem using coupled thermal and surface process models to interpret low-temperature thermochronometers (fission track and (U-Th)/He). Thermochronometers sampled at the Earth's surface provide us with important information about the temperature history of a rock. Todd is using analysis from thermochronometer samples, and various 2D and 3D finite element models to determin the topographic and exhumational history of various active tectonic regions. See Prof. Ehler's webpage for more information.

Hydrothermal Circulation in Young Sea Floor.

We have worked with scientists from the Pacific Geoscience Centre in Canada to study how fluids circulate through the oceanic crust on sedimented flanks of a mid-ocean ridge. We have conducted several oceanic cruises to gather heat flow and seismic data on the eastern flank of the Juan de Fuca Ridge, that were used to constrain numerical models of hydrothermal convection.

Thermal Histories of Sedimentary Basins.

Previous work by Phil Armstrong (Ph.D. Univ. Utah, now at Cal State Fullerton) studied the Taranaki basin, New Zealand where plate tectonics and recent volcanism provide a mouth-watering variety of thermal events and fields that control the maturation of hydrocarbons. Work by Brian McPherson (Ph.D. Univ. Utah, now at New Mexico Tech.) evaluated the relative importance of compaction disequilibria and kerogen conversion in producing overpressures in the Uinta basin, Eastern Utah.

Thermal Geophysics Group / Geology & Geophysics / University of Utah

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Last updated September 14, 2010.