Talking about red hot pokering
... the International Continental Scientific Drilling Program, European Union, German Science Foundation and the Campania region of Italy are all funding a project to drill into an active caldera close to Naples.
Probing 4,000 metres into an active volcano is no mean feat: temperatures are expected to be as high as 500–600 °C. "No similar project has ever faced such temperatures," says De Natale. The researchers will use a drilling rig provided by the International Continental Scientific Drilling Program (ICDP), an intergovernmental research consortium that is funding the project in collaboration with the European Union, the German Science Foundation and the government of the Campania region of Italy, in which the caldera lies.
Such a high temperature at a relatively shallow depth may turn out to be an opportunity for other research fields. Below 3,000 metres, researchers expect to find supercritical fluids, which form when water is above boiling temperature but under so much pressure that it can't turn into vapour. "Although the technology is still experimental, such fluids could one day be extracted and used in a geothermal plant, with a tenfold increase in efficiency compared to classic geothermy," says De Natale.
But the project comes with risks, says de Vivo. A similar project in Iceland, also sponsored by the ICDP, was halted last year after it unexpectedly found magma at a depth of just 2,100 metres. Hitting magma so close to the surface could theoretically cause an explosion in the well or trigger small earthquakes, which could be dangerous near a big city. He adds that drilling may repollute the old industrial site by bringing heavy metals and other toxic compounds to the surface.
This project smells like sulphur.
De Vivo says that drilling closer to the centre of the Campi Flegrei caldera and farther away from Naples would provide more data, without risking the population of the city. "If the goal is studying the structure of the caldera, why drill so far from its centre, which is actually to the west, near the town of Pozzuoli?" he asks.
Maybe the real reason for drilling where they are, despite the human and environmental risks, is to explore possibility of using green energy to power Naples.
Here are the aims of the inter-governmental project, as per a 2006 ICCP workshop
* Reconstruction of the deep caldera structure, thermal state, stress and rheology (location of shallow magma reservoirs and brittle-ductile transition),
* Reconstruction of the geothermal system and its interaction with magma reservoirs, both during eruptive and pre-eruptive phases,
* Determination of best strategies for geothermal energy exploitation,
* Improvement of shallow and deep monitoring technologies and risk mitigation.
De Natale responds that drilling near Pozzuoli would be less interesting than at the proposed site, as it would allow researchers to study only collapsed layers of rock rather than a stratified picture of their chemical composition and temperature.
Don't know whether this is a meaningful reason. But if their aim is to test strategies for geothermal energy exploitation it's a lot more meaningful to do that near Naples, where the energy is needed. To hell with the minor risk of setting off an earthquake or eruption (with possibly global consequences) when there is a world to be saved from global climate disruption.
Here's an ICCP article on drilling at Campi Flegrei
. Map of the caldera below... with Naples to the right
Edited to add:A year ago
De Natale was more up front about the geothermal goal of the project, calling it "Central to this expansion".
“Central to this expansion, says iuseppe De Natale, a geophysicist at the Vesuvian Observatory in Naples, will be exploiting Campi Flegrei. He points out that this is an ideal site for geothermal energy production because its subsurface temperature increases rapidly with depth and because it contains natural reservoirs, which means that the water that is used to carry away the heat does not have to be pumped in from outside. He believes that, given the political will, the fraction of the country’s electricity generated by geothermal could rise five-fold to as much as 10% within the next 10 years.
De Natale says that he and his colleagues will use the results of a test on supercritical geothermal energy to be carried out shortly in Iceland, a heavy user of geothermal energy.
Hmmm, that sounds like the drilling that was halted at 2100km because it started to cause earthquakes (as referred to in articles above).
“Once we have shown the people and politicians the potential of geothermal energy in this area, I believe it will be easier to persuade them to move to the more powerful supercritical technology,” says De Natale.”Daily Mail
Borehole fibre-optic sensors will help scientists know where the magma is stored while other sensors will monitor the movement of the ground around the volcano, giving potentially vital information about when it might erupt.
Yet according to one expert
that won't mean nuthin.