Big Ideas in Volcanology: Volcanic Heat

Big Idea 1.
Volcanic heat comes from natural radioactivity...

The study of the Earth's internal heat processes is a very active area of research with many questions still waiting to be answered. Current and future scientific investigation will help us to understand the Earth's history and future. The more we understand about heat flow in the Earth, the more efficiently and responsibly we can exploit it for energy! Geologists are not the only scientists studying Earth's internal heat! Scientists from different disciplines including chemistry, physics, and astronomy work together to solve the complex problems in this field of research.

Some questions that scientists are working on now...

1. Currently we can only measure temperatures very close to the surface and create models to estimate the interior temperature of the Earth. How hot is it in there?

2. We are uncertain about the abundances of short-lived radioisotopes early in Earth's history. How much heat was contributed by these isotopes?

3. Estimates of the relative contributions of residual vs. radiogenic heat vary significantly. How much heat flow is residual vs. radiogenic?

4. Geothermal is a seemingly infinite source of energy, but production at individual sites decreases over time. Is geothermal energy truly sustainable?

Maybe you will be the one to answer one of these questions!

For more information about  groups conducting research in these areas, visit the following links!

Southern Methodist University Geothermal Laboratory
Great Basin Center for Geothermal Energy
International Geothermal Association: What is Geothermal Energy?

Radiogenic Heat Flow
"Partial radiogenic heat model for Earth revealed by geoneutrino measurements."
Integrated Ocean Drilling Program
KAMLAND - Stanford University

Mantle Convection
Mantle Plumes: Discussing the Origin of "Hotspot" Volcanism
An Animation of the Earth's Layers & Plate Tectonics

Thermal Remote Sensing of Volcanism
"Remote Sensing of Active Volcanism" - Francis & Rothery
Geophysical Institute - University of Alaska Fairbanks
University of Pittsburgh - Department of Geology and Planetary Science
University of Hawaii - School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology
Michigan Technological University - Department of Geological and Mining Engineering & Sciences