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How a Gravity Map Will Help Green the Planet

Geothermal energy is an under-utilized green resource, in large part thanks to the massive up-front costs associated with finding it, but a new kind of satellite mapping may make discovering suitable sites a lot easier. Europe’s Goce satellite mapped Earth’s gravity field, and in doing so has given researchers new clues for siting geothermal plants. The BBC reports:

Although a large potential resource, geothermal currently accounts for less than one percent of the world’s electricity generation. Part of that comes down to the huge costs of exploration. But Goce’s maps are expected to shortcut some of the effort by pinpointing regions of the world with the best characteristics, such as where the continental crust is at its thinnest.

As it flew around the planet, the satellite was able to observe very subtle differences in the pull of gravity from one place to the next – a function of the uneven distribution of mass beneath it. This variation in the gravity signal is most obvious over large mountains and over deep ocean trenches. […]

The…gravity map gives insights into particular structures that might favour geothermal energy…Prospectors will still need other types of information to find the heat reservoirs – but the new portal should be a good place to start, especially in some countries where local geological surveys may be very difficult to conduct and are therefore incomplete.

More news like this, please. Malthusians would like us to believe humanity has overridden the planet’s capacity to carry civilization, but every story like this is a blow to that kind of thinking. Whether it’s growing more food using less land and resources, tapping previously inaccessible oil and gas formations, or refining search techniques for geothermal hotspots, scientific discovery continues to defy short-sighted predictions.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of predicting the future based on current conditions, but let’s remember that the pace of technological change is accelerating, and bringing with it a host of solutions to problems that today may seem insurmountable. We live in interesting times.

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