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Effect of Glacial/Interglacial Recharge Conditions on Flow of Meteoric Water Through Deep Orogenic Faults: Insights Into the Geothermal System at Grimsel Pass, Switzerland

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Author Alt‐Epping Peter, Diamond Larryn W., Wanner Christoph, Hammond Glenn E.,
Project Exploration and characterization of deep underground reservoirs
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Volume (Issue) 126(7)
Page(s) 1 - 21
Title of proceedings Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
DOI 10.1029/2020jb021271

Open Access

Type of Open Access Publisher (Gold Open Access)


Many meteoric-recharged, fault-hosted geothermal systems in amagmatic orogenic belts have been active through the Pleistocene glacial/interglacial climate fluctuations. The effects of climate- induced recharge variations on fluid flow patterns and residence times of the thermal waters are complex and may influence how the geothermal and mineralization potential of the systems are evaluated. We report systematic thermal-hydraulic simulations designed to reveal the effects of recharge variations, using a model patterned on the orogenic geothermal system at Grimsel Pass in the Swiss Alps. Previous studies have shown that fault-bounded circulation of meteoric water is driven to depths of ∼10 km by the high alpine topography. Simulations suggest that the current single-pass flow is typical of interglacial periods, during which (a) meteoric recharge into the fault is high (above tens of centimeters per year), (b) conditions are at or somewhat below the critical Rayleigh number, and (c) hydraulic connectivity along the fault plane is extensive (an extent of at least 10 km into increasingly higher terrain is required to explain the 10 km penetration depth). The subcritical condition constrains the bulk fault permeability to <1e-14 m2. In contrast, the limited recharge during the numerous Pleistocene glaciation events likely induced a layered flow system, with single-pass flow confined to shallow depths while non-Rayleigh convection occurred deeper in the fault. The same layering can be observed at low aspect ratios (length/ depth) of the fault plane, when the available recharge area limits flux through the fault.