Superheated vapor from the core of the Earth

31Mar11

Geothermal energy can manifest in a giant plume of vapor spewing out of a crack in the ground, a bubbling pool of hot water at the foot of a mountain under sub-zero temperatures, or a thin jet of superheated fluid shooting into the air intermittently.

Thousands of miles deep into the ground, heat trapped in the Earth’s core melt rock that forms magma. The heat of the magma rises to the aquifers by convection and brings the water to a boil many times over.

When water seeping into the Earth collects in porous material just above rising heat, the water becomes superheated, creating geothermal reservoirs. This process of superheating creates a radiating pressure on the Earth’s inner and outer mantle and eventually cracks the impermeable rock layer, allowing vapor to escape.

Because it is a long climb from the core of the Earth to the surface, some of the steam pressure is lost as temperature drops. The cooling water seeps back underground to be heated again.

But steam that maintains its heat can break through the surface and spew into the air in a seething plume, as in a geyser — or collect into a pool and mix with and heat the cold water there, as in a hot spring.

Graphic by Alfred Elicierto, published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2007.
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Also in this blog
How ‘Big Foot’ tracks earthquakes
Ash tree-killing beetle
The Haiti earthquake
Shaping the Amazon
Navigating the seaway locks
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2 Responses to “Superheated vapor from the core of the Earth”

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