Monthly Archives: January 2014

World’s First Magma-enhanced Geothermal System Created in Iceland

UC Riverside scientist is editor of this month’s issue of Geothermics, dedicated to results from Icelandic Deep Drilling Project.

In 2009, a borehole drilled at Krafla, northeast Iceland, as part of the Icelandic Deep Drilling Project (IDDP), unexpectedly penetrated into magma (molten rock) at only 2100 meters depth, with a temperature of 900-1000 C.  The borehole, IDDP-1, was the first in a series of wells being drilled by the IDDP in Iceland in the search for high-temperaturegeothermal resources.

The January 2014 issue of the international journal Geothermics is dedicated to scientific and engineering results arising from that unusual occurrence. This issue is edited by Wilfred Elders, a professor emeritus of geology at the University of California, Riverside, who also co-authored three of the research papers in the special issue with Icelandic colleagues.

“Drilling into magma is a very rare occurrence anywhere in the world and this is only the second known instance, the first one, in 2007, being in Hawaii,” Elders said.  “The IDDP, in cooperation with Iceland’s National Power Company, the operator of the Krafla geothermal power plant, decided to investigate the hole further and bear part of the substantial costs involved.”

The January 2014 issue of the journal Geothermics is dedicated to scientific and engineering results arising from the Icelandic Deep Drilling Project. The special issue is edited by UC Riverside’s Wilfred Elders.

Accordingly, a steel casing, perforated in the bottom section closest to the magma, was cemented into the well. The hole was then allowed to heat slowly and eventually allowed to flow superheated steam for the next two years, until July 2012, when it was closed down in order to replace some of the surface equipment.

“In the future, the success of this drilling and research project could lead to a revolution in the energy efficiency of high-temperature geothermal areas worldwide,” Elders said.

He added that several important milestones were achieved in this project: despite some difficulties, the project was able to drill down into the molten magma and control it; it was possible to set steel casing in the bottom of the hole; allowing the hole to blow superheated, high-pressure steam for months at temperatures exceeding 450 C, created a world record for geothermal heat (this well was the hottest in the world and one of the most powerful); steam from the IDDP-1 well could be fed directly into the existing power plant at Krafla; and the IDDP-1 demonstrated that a high-enthalpy geothermal system could be successfully utilized.

“Essentially, the IDDP-1 created the world’s first magma-enhanced geothermal system,” Elders said. “This unique engineered geothermal system is the world’s first to supply heat directly from a molten magma.”

Elders explained that in various parts of the world so-called enhanced or engineered geothermal systems are being created by pumping cold water into hot dry rocks at 4-5 kilometers depths. The heated water is pumped up again as hot water or steam from production wells. In recent decades, considerable effort has been invested in Europe, Australia, the United States, and Japan, with uneven, and typically poor, results.

UK faces food security catastrophe as honeybee numbers fall, scientists warn

The UK faces a food security catastrophe because of its very low numbers of honeybee colonies, which provide an essential service in pollinating many crops, scientists warned on Wednesday.

New research reveals that honeybees provide just a quarter of the pollination needed in the UK, the second lowest level among 41 European countries. Furthermore, the controversial rise of biofuels inEurope is driving up the need for pollination five times faster than the rise in honeybee numbers. The research suggests an increasing reliance on wild pollinators, such as bumblebees and hoverflies, whose diversity is in decline.


A honeybee



“We face a catastrophe in future years unless we act now,” said Professor Simon Potts, at the University of Reading, who led the research. “Wild pollinators need greater protection. They are the unsung heroes of the countryside, providing a critical link in the food chain for humans and doing work for free that would otherwise cost British farmers £1.8bn to replace.”

The study, published in the journal PLoS One, found that Europe has 13 million less managed honeybee colonies than would be needed to properly pollinate all its crops, equivalent to 7 billion individual bees. Across the continent, honeybees provided just two-thirds of the pollination but the situation in the UK was particularly stark, with only Moldova having a bigger bee deficit. Many major agricultural nations, including France, Italy and Germany, had too few honeybees to provide all the pollination services.

Potts warned that an increasing reliance on wild pollinators was particularly dangerous given that their health is not being monitored and that too little is being done to protect them. “We need a proper strategy across Europe to conserve wild bees and pollinators through habitat protection, agricultural policy and farming methods, or we risk big financial losses to the farming sector and a potential food security crisis,” he said.

The poor situation in the UK is partly due to a big decline in honeybees in recent decades. More recently, cereal crops that are wind-pollinated have increasingly been replaced by biofuel crops like oil seed rape which require insect pollination to give full yields. Elsewhere in Europe, biofuel demand has increased sunflower production, another crop that needs insect pollination. Overall, production of oil seed crops has risen by almost 20% from 2005-2010 in Europe. Biofuels produced from edible crops have already become controversial because of links to rises in food prices and suggestions that some are just as polluting as the fossil fuels they replace.

“The biofuel policy has gone through without anyone thinking about the impacts on pollination,” said Tom Breeze, another of the research team at Reading.

Over 75% of all food crops require pollination and concern has mounted in recent years about the role of pesticides, habitat loss and disease in declining honeybee numbers and suspected losses of wild pollinators. In December, a two-year ban began across the Europe Union on widely used insecticides that have been linked to serious harm in bees. The UKunsuccessfully opposed the ban, arguing there was insufficient evidence for it.