February 24, 2024

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New Zealand Researchers Use ML to Anticipate Geothermal Instability

Researchers from the University of Canterbury intend to understand the various ways that geothermal fields in the country can become unstable and how to identify potential risks. Geothermal energy is extracted from heat deep beneath the Earth’s surface. Due to New Zealand’s location over the boundaries of two active tectonic plates, it has multiple geothermal areas, particularly in the Taupo and Kawerau regions.

Although geothermal fields are used for energy production, minor earthquakes or hydrothermal eruptions could pose a risk to energy generation, a press statement explained. The team from the University’s Department of Civil and Natural Resources Engineering was recently awarded a five-year Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment Endeavour Fund grant to develop systems that can anticipate geothermal instability.

A researcher on the team, Dr Ardid, said that the team is harnessing insights from data collected from geyser eruptions in Yellowstone National Park in the United States. Over 10 years, seismic recordings of hundreds of eruptions at the Yellowstone geysers have been captured. The team employs machine learning to detect hidden patterns that arise before the eruptions and then transfer these into models customised to New Zealand geothermal systems.

Transfer machine learning allows researchers to look at instability in geothermal settings around the world, like Yellowstone, and then determine how the findings could apply in New Zealand. The goal of the research is to provide new monitoring systems for the geothermal industry to assist in mitigating the risks to people or the environment that are caused by small hydrothermal eruptions or earthquakes induced by geothermal activity.

The key focus of the research is on understanding the different ways that geothermal systems can become unstable – one of the classic examples is a geothermal geyser, which oscillates between stable and unstable states, Dr Ardid explained. The team will use techniques to classify, detect, and forecast these instabilities that the team had originally developed to study volcanic eruptions at Whakaari-White Island and Ruapehu.

The researcher who oversees the project noted that the aim is to help New Zealand’s geothermal industry adapt to future hazards environmental changes caused by humans and climate-change mitigation strategies like carbon sequestration.

The team believes that New Zealand’s geothermal industry has a significant role to play in Aotearoa’s low-carbon future, but the country needs to be alert to new hazards and be prepared to mitigate them. The team hopes this research will power new hazard models in New Zealand’s renewable energy sector and eventually be used internationally.

The country aims to transition to renewable electricity generation by 2030. To achieve this, the country is heavily investing in renewable energy sources such as hydro, wind, geothermal, and solar power. The government has also introduced initiatives and policies to promote renewable energy development.

Recently, OpenGov Asia reported that the University of Canterbury is exploring a seven-year project to integrate renewable energy into Aotearoa New Zealand’s electrical grid commencing in two years. It aims to turn the country’s century-old power grid into an optimum system for New Zealand’s needs by 2050. It is working closely with researchers from local and international universities and industry collaborators to share knowledge.

The project includes a proposed expanded meshed High Voltage DC (HVDC) grid to enable the transport of high volumes of power to other areas of the country. The project, Architecture of the Future Low Carbon, Resilient, Electrical Power System, or FAN, Future Architecture of the Network, received NZ$13.3 million over seven years from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) in 2020 as part of the Strategic Science Investment Fund (SSIF) Advanced Energy Technology Platform Research Programmes.

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