Earth Sciences Division (ESD) Department of Energy (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL)

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Pat Dobson, Chile, and Geothermal Energy

Source:  Pat Dobson, Dan Hawkes

Chile_dobson2Volcán Putana

This past November (and into December), ESD’s Pat Dobson traveled as a Fulbright Specialist to Chile in association with the Andean Geothermal Center of Excellence at the University of Chile, to explore research opportunities for geothermal exploration in the region. Specifically, Dobson wanted to establish a collaborative relationship between LBNL’s geothermal program and the Center, focusing on studying variations in He isotope ratios in geothermal hot springs and fumaroles along the length of the Andes (work done in collaboration with Mack Kennedy, the head of the LBNL-ESD geothermal program). In addition, he sought to increase the practical and theoretical experience of Chilean graduate students, specifically in the field of geothermal geochemistry and numerical modeling.

As Dobson describes it, the interpersonal contact he experienced in Chile was extensive and invaluable.

I participated in a four-day field trip for an introductory geothermal class at the University of Chile to the Nevados de Chillan geothermal system, demonstrating to the students how to collect geothermal gas samples. Upon our return to Santiago, I gave a lecture to the class on geothermal exploration techniques, using existing data from the area we had visited to help illustrate how these methods could be used to develop a conceptual model of a geothermal system. I also conducted a workshop demonstrating the use of GeoT, a new geothermometry program being developed by Nic Spycher here at LBNL. Moreover, I participated in a day-long workshop on geysers led by Carolina Muñoz, a graduate student at UC Berkeley, with a focus on the geysers at El Tatio, and later led a field trip to El Tatio with two graduate students from the University of Chile. On that trip, we collected geothermal fluid samples for the joint He isotope study and also collected sinter samples for one of the graduate student's Master’s thesis project.

Dobson also met with groups from SERNAGEOMIN (the Chilean Geological Survey), the Center for Renewable Energies, and ENEL Green Power.

While the trip was productive in a number of ways, Dobson felt that his most valuable contribution was the workshop that he gave on the GeoT geothermometry code being developed by LBNL. “I provided the students with a beta version of the code, and we worked on actual geothermal data sets to evaluate the different aspects of the code and to demonstrate its utility in providing estimates of reservoir temperatures through the use of geochemical analyses of waters and gases and thermodynamic data.”

In his role as teacher, Dobson inevitably learned a great deal from his students. “It became clear to me that the University of Chile has very well-prepared graduate students who are eager to learn about geothermal systems. The Andean Geothermal Center of Excellence at the University of Chile is rapidly becoming one of the leading centers for geothermal research, with the installation of a wide range of new analytical laboratories. I look forward to continued collaboration with this group.”

This effort was supported by the Fulbright Specialist Program, the University of Chile, and DOE’s Geothermal Technologies Program.



Movie of geyser eruption near Rio Salado, El Tatio: