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Summary of Proposal RES1660

TitleMapping and monitoring of snow-free areas and perturbed snow-pack associated with geothermally heated ground at Pilgrim Hot Springs, Alaska using TerraSAR-X High resolution Spotlight (HS) mode data.
Investigator Haselwimmer, Christian - University of Alaska Fairbanks, Geophysical Institute
Team Member
Dr Gens, Rudi - Alaska Satellite Facility, University of Alaska Fairbanks
Dr Daanen, Ronald - Water and Environment Research Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks
Dr Watson, Fred - California State University Monterey Bay, N/A
SummaryIn cold environments, such as the State of Alaska, the increasing costs of fossil-fuel based energy resources is driving renewed interest in the exploration and exploitation of geothermal systems. Remote sensing provides an important tool for the exploration and assessment of geothermal systems particularly over large, remote areas such as the State of Alaska. In the exploration for geothermal systems hot springs, fumaroles, and geysers present the most recognizable surface manifestations. Heated ground is a more subtle surface geothermal phenomena but one that often accounts for more of the total surface heat loss and can be the only surface geothermal expression if discrete features, such as hot springs, are absent (i.e. a ‘blind’ geothermal system). Conventional remote sensing techniques for geothermal exploration, in particular the use of thermal infrared data, have restricted capabilities for mapping heated-ground due to the often small temperature contrast of these areas with respect to the surrounding non-geothermal ground. This restricts the application of thermal infrared remote sensing to the mapping of geothermally-heated ground. In cold environments with persistent seasonal snow cover, geothermally-heated ground often results in the development of snow-free ground or perturbed snow conditions as a result of elevated ground temperatures that is anomalous with respect to surrounding snow-pack on non-geothermal ground. There is significant potential to use remote sensing to map this phenomenon that could provide an important tool for geothermal exploration in cold environments. In addition, through the use of physical models of snow-pack evolution there is potential to quantify the anomalous geothermal heat flux that causes snow-free/perturbed snow conditions associated with geothermally-heated ground, which could provide an important contribution to assessments of the resource potential of geothermal systems. TerraSAR-X High resolution Spotlight (HS) mode data has specific potential as a remote sensing technique for mapping of snow-melt anomalies associated with geothermal ground heating due to its very high spatial and temporal resolutions and the sensitivity of SAR data to snow physical properties. The aim of this project is to assess the potential of TerraSAR-X HS mode dual polarized data for mapping the seasonal development of anomalous snow conditions associated with geothermal ground at Pilgrim Hot Springs, Alaska during the winter to spring transition period. In particular, the project will assess the potential of TerraSAR-X data for: 1) delineating the seasonal changes in the extents of snow-free areas; 2) qualitative mapping of changing snow conditions (e.g. transition from dry to wet snow facies) that may provide indications of the impact of geothermal ground heating on areas with snow pack; 3) quantitative retrieval of specific snow-pack parameters such as snow depth or snow water equivalent (SWE). Depending upon the outcomes, the TerraSAR-X observations will be used as input to a snow-pack simulation model that aims to predict the anomalous geothermal heat flux associated with the areas of heated ground. We will undertake field investigations during the winter to spring transition period for the purposes of acquiring calibration and validation data to assess the outputs of TerraSAR-X data analysis and the snow-pack simulation model. Estimates of the ground heat flux derived from these methods will be compared against existing shallow temperature measurements. The project will provide a robust assessment of the potential for innovative remote sensing and modeling techniques to support the exploration and assessment of geothermal resources in cold environments. Funding for this work will be provided through our existing DOE/AEA grant that is undertaking exploration and assessment of the Pilgrim Hot Springs geothermal system.

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