Extreme geothermal activity discovered beneath New Zealand’s Southern Alps

An international team, including University of Southampton scientists, has found unusually high temperatures, greater than 100°C, close to Earth's surface in New Zealand -- a phenomenon typically only seen in volcanic areas such as Iceland or Yellowstone, USA.

The researchers made the discovery while boring almost a kilometre into the Alpine Fault, the major tectonic boundary between the Australian and Pacific plates -running the length of the country's South Island. The team was working to better understand what happens at a tectonic plate boundary in the build-up to a large earthquake.

The Deep Fault Drilling Project (DFDP) borehole, was drilled at Whataroa to the north of Franz Josef Glacier and discovered extremely hot, highly pressured groundwater flowing near to the fault line. Water at temperatures of more than 100°C is normally only found at depths of over three kilometres, but in this case was encountered at just over 600m depth.

In an article published in the international journal Nature, computer models are used show these high temperatures result from a combination of the uplift of hot rocks along the tectonic plate boundary and groundwater flow caused by high mountains close to the Alpine Fault.

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