Scientists may find a potential source of limitless energy under people's feet: what's known about it
Scientists in Iceland intend to drill a well directly into the Earth's magma chamber, which will allow for the first time a direct look at oceans of molten rock many kilometers below the surface. But in addition to scientific curiosity, this could also revolutionize geothermal energy, which could lead to the technology being used anywhere in the world.
The details were reported by New Scientist. Such an energy source will potentially have hitherto unattainable efficiency.
"This is the first journey to the center of the Earth," said Björn Schur Gurmundsson of the Geothermal Research Cluster (GEORG) in Reykjavik. He believes that such a well could open up potentially "unlimited energy" for humanity.
Magma is extremely important to our understanding of the Earth's geology, but it is not as easy to find as it may seem, and direct, reliable data on it is extremely rare. So far, no one has even attempted to drill directly into a magma chamber.
As John Eichelberger, a volcanologist at the University of Alaska, explained, discussions of this topic usually end in ridicule and statements about provoking an eruption. Not to mention that few people believe that a magma chamber can be found.
But incredible luck proved that this was a mistaken reaction. In 2009, a geothermal drilling project for the Icelandic energy company Landsvirkjun unexpectedly stumbled upon a magma chamber near the formidable Krafla volcano. Despite the warnings, no volcanic eruption occurred, so now scientists know that drilling in magma can be safe.
In 2013, the same team that made the discovery launched the Krafla Magma Testbed project to try to replicate their success. It is within this project that drilling is scheduled to begin in 2026. Scientists aim to deepen our knowledge of magma in the first place.
"We don't have direct knowledge of what magma chambers look like, which is of course crucial for understanding volcanoes," explained Pao Papale of the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in Italy.
The scientists plan to place a number of sensors in the magma that will continue to measure properties such as temperature. They also intend to study how the rock is melted into magma, as well as to find indicators that could tell us about the approach of a volcanic eruption, which is currently difficult to predict.
In addition, the scientists intend to contribute to the renewable energy industry. They hope to develop a new form of geothermal energy generation called near-magmatic geothermal, which uses the extreme heat of molten rock to heat water to even higher temperatures than those possible with current technology.
In order for this technology to be applied worldwide, scientists, however, need to understand how to determine exactly where magma chambers are hidden under the Earth's surface and whether their accidental discovery will contribute to this.