Geothermics is the study of heat inside the earth. Primarily, it is the science of the deep heat that is associated with hot springs, geysers, and superheated mud and fumaroles. Fumaroles are earth’s vents, often called smoke holes. The usefulness of this science is in learning how to use the natural heat of the earth to power electrical conversion systems. as well as being used in research.
One of the first questions often asked is what causes the heat? Why is the earth not the same temperature as it is in the areas closest to the surface where the year round temperature stays around fifty-five or fifty-six degrees, or near that. It never freezes and never overheats and that is the reasoning behind cellars; preserved foods are kept from freezing and fresh produce from freezing or decay. Deep down heat is volatile heat and most often it is not stable. Thus the need for study and research on its potential for eruptions and disasters, and yes, for its uses as thermal energy.
The rocks in the earth get warmer and denser the deeper they are. It’s the same principle as heavy falling to the bottom and the lighter floating upward or, in the case of small pebbles and sand, staying near the surface. The heat is produced when these rocks that have ores of certain radioactive chemicals embedded within them, decay. The heat produced expands with time and activity and must have an escape. Thus the reason behind hot springs, geysers, and fumaroles.
What are the commercial uses of geothermics? Outside of the spas and natural heated springs as vacation sites such as those that George Washington made famous in West Virginia, and those he did not make famous in Arkansas, and in Nevada, and in other places, this heat is used to create electricity. This is now being done in New Zealand, Japan, Iceland, Mexico, in the United States and elsewhere. It was first used for this purpose in Tuscany, Italy in 1904 and it is still being used in this capacity there today.
All this, supposedly, distances us in time and in place from the early Roman baths where the people bathed in these public hot baths, but not necessarily so. These hot baths can still be found in Iceland, in Turkey and in Japan. Early Norse people used to bring this already heated water into their home by way of wooden tunnels, or conduits.
Today in Budapest, Hungary, all of Reykjavik, Iceland and other parts of Iceland geothermics is a big business and supplies the people with needed energy. In the United States, Klamath Falls, Oregon and more recently, Boise, Idaho are also indebted to geothermics for their energy supply.
The question now arises: Why is it not used in more areas? The question is easily explained: The sub strata of the earth must be of the kind that produces this type of superheat. Underneath there must be enough radioactivity in the rock formations that produce this kind of energy and there must be a supply of water ready to get it from down there to the places upside where it is needed. In the areas mentioned the necessary conditions are met.
The superiority of using naturally heated steam pressure from natural geothermal systems as opposed to using carbon dioxide producing fossil fuels to artificially produce this steam in creating electricity, is understandable. The problem, of course, is its availability. Experiments continue.
Such experiments have been ongoing. One such is drilling into these hot rocks in volcanic areas and forcing water into them and have it return as superheated steam’. In the United States much work is going on at “the world’s largest geothermal power complex at the Geysers of northern California.” Other places with similar, though smaller, operations are in California, Nevada, Utah, and Hawaii.