Heat Flow Anomalies And Their Interpretation

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Journal Article: Heat Flow Anomalies And Their Interpretation

More than 10,000 heat flow determinations exist for the earth and the data set is growing steadily at about 450 observations per year. If heat flow is considered as a surface expression of geothermal processes at depth, the analysis of the data set should reveal properties of those thermal processes. They do, but on a variety of scales. For this review heat flow maps are classified by 4 different horizontal scales of 10n km (n = 1, 2, 3 and 4) and attention is focussed on the interpretation of anomalies which appear with characteristic dimensions of 10(n - 1) km in the respective representations. The largest scale of 104 km encompasses heat flow on a global scale. Global heat loss is 4 _ 1013 W and the process of sea floor spreading is the principal agent in delivering much of this heat to the surface. Correspondingly, active ocean ridge systems produce the most prominent heat flow anomalies at this scale with characteristic widths of 103 km. Shields, with similar dimensions, exhibit negative anomalies. The scale of 103 km includes continent wide displays. Heat flow patterns at this scale mimic tectonic units which have dimensions of a few times 102 km, although the thermal boundaries between these units are sometimes sharp. Heat flow anomalies at this scale also result from plate tectonic processes, and are associated with arc volcanism, back arc basins, hot spot traces, and continental rifting. There are major controversies about the extent to which these surface thermal provinces reflect upper mantle thermal conditions, and also about the origin and evolution of the thermal state of continental lithosphere. Beginning with map dimensions of 102 km thermal anomalies of scale 101 km, which have a definite crustal origin, become apparent. The origin may be tectonic, geologic, or hydrologic. Ten kilometers is a common wavelength of topographic relief which drives many groundwater flow systems producing thermal anomalies. The largest recognized continental geothermal systems have thermal anomalies 101 km wide and are capable of producing hundreds of megawatts of thermal energy. The smallest scale addressed in this paper is 101 km. Worldwide interest in exploiting geothermal systems has been responsible for a recent accumulation of heat flow data on the smallest of scales considered here. The exploration nature of the surveys involve 10's of drillholes and reveal thermal anomalies having widths of 100 km. These are almost certainly connected to surface and subsurface fluid discharge systems which, in spite of their restricted size, are typically delivering 10 MW of heat to the near surface environment.

David S. Chapman and Ladislaus Rybach

Published Journal 
Journal of Geodynamics, 1985



David S. Chapman,Ladislaus Rybach. 1985. Heat Flow Anomalies And Their Interpretation. Journal of Geodynamics. (!) .