Nov 122017

Not a new idea, but one sure to rile the conspiracy theorists and panic mongers:

Nasa’s [sic] ambitious plan to save Earth from a supervolcano

Basic idea: drill down towards the magma chamber, pump cool water down; water sucks heat from magma and races back up the system as 600-degree steam, which is then used to turn turbines to generate electricity. Energy is created while the risk is reduced. So goes the theory.

The basic idea is reasonably sound. The biggest problem is simply the scale of the problem:the amount of heat in the magma chamber is *vast.* And the depths they’d need to drill are equally vast… on the order of ten kilometers (which is ha-ha-ha-no level of depth). The cost of the project is estimated at $3.46 billion…. peanuts, really, compared to FedGuv spending. The power generation potential is also vast, on the scale of 6 gigawatts of thermal energy. Thousands of years would be required to actually cool the magma chamber to where it’s safe.

And there are detractors…

No, NASA Isn’t Going to Drill to Stop Yellowstone from Erupting


 Posted by at 11:48 am
  • Barmaglot

    Technically, 10 kilometers is quite deep, but not ha-ha-ha-no deep – Kola Superdeep Borehole went a few kilometers deeper than that three decades ago, and technology has advanced since then.

    • Scottlowther

      I would argue that 10 km is a *really* long way to drill into unstable geologically active ground, especially if you want to drill anything more than a foot or two in diameter, which you’d probably have to to have the sectional area for the steam flow.

      • Barmaglot

        It is, but oil&gas people drill holes that deep on a regular basis these days, including ones that start under a mile of water.

        • Scottlowther

          As I understand it, the geothermal drilling requirements are more challenging than oil & gas. Thermal issues plus the fact that you need the hole to cover *both* liquid going down and gas coming up.

  • Graham

    For some reason I start thinking of the Dr Who serial ‘Inferno’ every time projects like this are bought up.

  • Peter Hanely

    What are they afraid of drilling in from above? Thermal stress? I presume such a bore hole would be cooled to avoid damage to the drill bit.

    • Scottlowther

      Coming in from directly above would mean drilling through the thinnest part of the rock that’s keeping the magma chamber from going *foom.* That there is asking for trouble.

  • Thucydides_of_Athens

    My reading of this is the idea is to drill around the edges of the magma chamber and if possible below it, cooling it from the bottom (so to speak).

    I’m not entirely clear if the idea is to just drill one hole (which seems like trying to put out a huge fire with an eye dropper), or to ring the magma chamber. Putting a ring of geothermal cooling systems/power plants would seem to make more sense, and I’m pretty sure you should be able to generate far more than just 6.5 GW, but the state of science reporting these days is pretty abysmal.

    • Scottlowther

      > I’m pretty sure you should be able to generate far more than just 6.5 GW

      My understanding is that the 6.5GW is the amount of heat energy currently being dumped into the magma chamber from below and *not* being released. So if you extract 6.5 GW, you keep the magma chamber from heating up. If you extract more than that, you cool it down. It will of course take a *long* time to cool it meaningfully.

      • Thucydides_of_Athens

        That’s why I find so much of the so called “science” reporting annoying. A single coal fired power plant can produce a GW of electrical energy, so 6.5GW does not seem sufficient to be heating so much rock in the magma chamber. But the various magazine articles leave a lot undefined or open to interpretation: is 6.5GW the entire energy available, or the amount that one deep borehole could tap into and access?

        At any rate, given the potential negative consequences of a super volcano explosion, this does seem to be a project which should be initiated ASAP.

      • publiusr

        If you were to start as a magma chamber was beginning to fill up to start with–that’s one thing. Now, a drill would just un-pop the cork.