Accelerating exploration for geothermal energy with UAV-magnetics conducted in Nevada

Humboldt Range Geothermal Fieldwork

Reno, Nevada, USA; Riga, Latvia – March 3, 2021 – Geophysics faculty and graduate students from the University of Nevada, Reno, announce new exploration for blind geothermal systems with Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) magnetometry. The study site is located in the Humboldt Range, Nevada. By improving the margins of safety and ease of deployment, geophysicists performing UAV-magnetics can now conduct larger regional analysis for geothermal or mineralogical interests. Geometrics supplied a MagArrow Magnetometer for research use.

Geothermal power is produced in many regions throughout the world and is a source of green energy capable of providing baseload power 24/7. Nevada is well endowed with power-producing geothermal fluids that ascend to the surface along range-bounding extensional faults. Many of these geothermal systems are blind at the surface, showing no active geothermal features such as hot springs or fumaroles.

Magnetics surveying can reveal buried faults and geologic contacts – the boundary between different rock types – to provide clues for locating geothermal fluid pathways. In general, a ground magnetics surveyor can hike 15-20 km per day on flat terrain. Much less can be covered in high relief terrain, which can also put the ground operator at greater risk of injury during the days or weeks it takes to conduct a typical survey. In contrast, a two-person UAV magnetics crew can cover between 60-200 line-km per day.

Geothermal energy is environmentally friendly and provides steady energy contributions to a power grid. Scientists are currently involved in active research and exploration to develop new geothermal resources.

‘Geologic structures concealed by basin fill are interpreted from reduced-to-pole total magnetic intensity and the horizontal gradient maps. These models guide where to focus more detailed exploration.’ Christopher Kratt, UAV pilot and Laboratory Coordinator at the Center for Transformative Environmental Monitoring Programs (CTEMPs), College of Science, University of Nevada, Reno.

‘UAV-magnetics is transformative for both the UAV industry and the magnetometry sciences. Using drones is safer and more cost-effective than ground or piloted airborne surveys. The whole process is eyes up, no longer head down, which allows the geophysicist to do their best job possible. Magnetic information is becoming increasingly valuable, and new magnetometer technology is allowing for this revolution in collection methods.’ adds Geometrics’ geophysicist Stefan Burns.

‘We predict that in the coming years that UAV magnetometry will increasingly facilitate successful resource exploration projects. UAV magnetometry is an order of magnitude less expensive than an airborne survey. Many research projects have also acquired Lidar and multispectral sensor data alongside magnetic data with a UAV, allowing for rapid geologic interpretations of the subsurface.’ Alexey Dobrovolskiy, CTO at SPH Engineering.

Humboldt Range Geothermal Fieldwork

Geothermal potential in this part of United States was first indicated by the Nevada geothermal play fairway analysis. The Geothermal Technologies Office of the U.S. Department of Energy provided funding in a grant awarded to the Great Basin Center for Geothermal Energy, which is housed in the College of Science’s Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology at the University of Nevada, Reno. The Humboldt Range is one of several highly ranked sites under investigation in 2021 with UAV magnetic surveys. The research is conducted with a UAV integrated with a MagArrow Magnetometer by Geometrics and UgCS software by SPH Engineering.