Groundwater flow cooling the Earth’s crust

Groundwater that flows through the outer shell of the Earth as part of the hydrologic cycle influences the distribution of heat and, thereby, the temperature field in the Earth’s crust. Downward groundwater flow in recharge areas lowers crustal temperatures down to great depths, whereas upward flow in discharge areas tends to raise temperatures relative to a purely conductive geothermal regime. Henk Kooi presents numerical simulations of generalized topography-driven groundwater flow.

The simulations suggest that groundwater-driven convective cooling exceeds groundwater-driven warming of the Earth’s crust, and hence that groundwater flow systems cause net temperature reductions of groundwater basins. Moreover, the simulations demonstrate that this cooling extends into the underlying crust and lithosphere. Kooi found that horizontal components of groundwater flow play a central role in this net subsurface cooling by conveying relatively cold water to zones of upward groundwater flow. The model calculations suggest that the crust and lithosphere beneath groundwater basins can cool by tens of degrees Celsius where groundwater flows over large distances in basins that consist of crustal rock. In contrast, groundwater-induced cooling is small in unconsolidated sedimentary settings, such as deltas.


» Paper in Nature Geoscience