Scientists have discovered that a lake in New Zealand situated on top of a magma body generates enough geothermal energy to power all of the lights in a city-sized area.

Scientists are studying the geothermal systems contained by New Zealand’s Lake Rotomahana near Rotorua, as part of efforts to determine the energy generation potential of the natural formation.

Lake Rotomahana measures approximately three kilometres by six kilometres, with an area of around 800 hectares and a maximum depth of 120 metres. The lake is situated on top of a large magma body, a fact which, in combination with its close proximity to Rotorua, makes it a superb candidate for geothermal power generation.

The research project, led by GNS Science, in collaboration with America’s Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the Natural Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Waikato, hopes to ascertain the size and condition of the magma body situated beneath that particular part of the Bay of Plenty.

The scientists measured the volume of geothermal heat generated by the body of water by placing state-of-the-art measuring devices at 110 different points on the lake floor.

Cornel de Ronde

Cornel de Ronde

Their initial results indicate the lake possesses exceptional geothermal potential, with a heat energy output around five times greater than that produced by hot vents at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.

“The amount of heat passing through the lake is truly impressive,” said Cornel de Ronde of GNS science, who was responsible for leading the project. “There’s about two square kilometres of the lake floor where there is enough heat energy to power a 60 watt light bulb every square metre.”

“In my carer as a scientist studying heat flow, I really have not seen anything this strong,” said Maurice Tivey, a senior scientist from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the US. “This is an incredible amount of heat coming out of the bottom of the lake.”

According to de Ronde, the lake contains two principle areas of high heat generation, the precise sources of which the research team is still in the process of ascertaining.