Heat Flow Studies

The Earth’s internal heat drives many geologic processes and, where it is locally concentrated, this heat can be manifested as volcanoes, hot springs, and other thermal features. Large portions of the western U.S. are characterized by anomalously high heat flow from the interior of the Earth as a result of active faulting and volcanism, and heat flow measurements provide important insights into these active geologic processes.

The USGS conducts research on the thermal regime of the Earth’s crust, with a current focus on geothermal energy resources, heat and fluid transport in hydrothermal systems, thermal controls on the seismogenic properties of faults, hydrologic processes, the transport of heat and mass between the surface and the shallow subsurface, and the evolution of sedimentary basins. An important component of these investigations is the acquisition, analysis, and modeling of heat flow data. These studies, which are supported by the USGS and external grants from other public agencies, are conducted in the United States and overseas, with a primary emphasis on the western United States.

The breadth of Heat Flow Studies Group activities falls under a single guiding objective as summarized by former USGS Associate Chief Geologist Steve Bohlen. To quote, “We must effectively engage research partners and optimize our research endeavors to accomplish the following... Understand the significance of the flux of mass and heat in the upper crust and between the upper crust and the surface so that we can model quantitatively such diverse processes as the migration of toxic elements, the respiration of the Earth’s upper crust, and the evolution of basins and petroleum and ground-water systems.”

Group Personnel

The USGS Heat Flow Studies Group works within the Geothermal Resource Investigations Project and the Physics of Earthquakes Project.