Academic Year 2019-2020
Institution Queen's University, Belfast


School: School of Natural and Built Environment

Project: The Impact of Thermal Plumes on Aquifer Properties and Groundwater Quality

Supervisors: Dr Ulrich Ofterdinger and Dr Jean-Christophe Comte

Undergraduate Education: MEng Civil Engineering, Queen’s University Belfast

Postgraduate Education: N/A

Research: The research project will investigate the impact of thermal plumes associated with geothermal installations on aquifer parameters (e.g., porosity & permeability) and water quality. Thermal plumes are not only likely to reduce aquifer porosities & permeabilities by facilitating inorganic precipitation and secondary mineralisation but also by promoting microbial activity within the aquifer with the additional biomass adding to the reduction of aquifer porosities. This in turn will affect the overall efficiency and sustainability of the geothermal installation and reduce the sustainable yield of the groundwater body for water supplies.

The project will use the Triassic Sherwood Sandstone Aquifer (SSA) as a case study example. The study will be based on full-scale field experiments utilising three existing borehole installations at Queen’s University Belfast. The study will combine the baseline characterisation of the aquifer system by completing a series of active borehole geophysical measurements, hydraulic tests, hydrochemical sampling and microbial profiling with the long-term monitoring of experimental thermal injection tests. Hydrochemical and microbial sampling & analysis will be supplemented with downhole temperature monitoring using fibre optic sensors and biogeophysical monitoring of microbial activity. Collected monitoring data will be integrated into numerical heat transport models to evaluate field-scale thermal properties of the aquifer and to better understand the impact of thermal plumes on aquifer properties.

The project will be run in close collaboration with the British Geological Survey (BGS) and the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland (GSNI). Other interested parties include Northern Ireland Water (NIW) and Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA).


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