New Zealand quake scientists make surprising find underground

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — When researchers in New Zealand drilled deep into an earthquake fault, they stumbled upon a discovery they say could provide a significant new energy source for the South Pacific nation.

The scientists found the water in the Alpine Fault was much hotter than expected, and could potentially be harnessed to generate electricity or provide direct heating in industries like dairy farming.

The finding was surprising because geothermal energy is usually associated with volcanic activity, but there are no volcanoes where the scientists drilled. Because the Alpine Fault stretches for hundreds of miles like a spine along the country’s South Island, the energy source could be enormous.

Led by Victoria University of Wellington professor Rupert Sutherland, the study was published Thursday in the journal Nature.

Sutherland said the intention of the study near the popular tourist destination of Franz Josef Glacier was to collect rock cores and install monitoring equipment rather than gauge water temperatures, but researchers are excited about their unexpected findings.

“Economically, it could be very significant for New Zealand,” Sutherland told The Associated Press in an interview. “It’s a totally new paradigm.”

In their study, the scientists say they believe two actions are creating the hot water.

First, they say, previous earthquakes have moved hot rocks up from deep within the Earth into the mountains along the fault line.

Second, the shaking has broken up the rocks, allowing rain water and snow melt to quickly percolate through the hot interior of the mountains, which concentrates the heat beneath the valleys.

Sutherland said they found the water in the fault reached 100 degrees Celsius (212 Fahrenheit) at a depth of 630 meters (2,100 feet). Water typically gets progressively hotter with depth, but under normal conditions it doesn’t reach that temperature until about 3 kilometers (2 miles) underground.

One hundred Celsius is boiling point on the…

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