Heat flow and near-surface radioactivity in the Australian continental crust

Open-File Report 76-250

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Heat-flow data have been obtained at 44 sites in various parts of Australia. These include seven sites from the old (~ 2500 m.y.) Precambrian shield of Western Australia, seventeen from the younger (~ 600- 2000 m.y.) Precambrian rocks of South Australia, the Northern Territory, and Queensland, and twenty within the eastern Paleozoic and younger rocks. Thirty of the sites are located where no previous heat-flow data existed, and the remainder provide significant extensions or refinements of areas previously studied. Where the holes studied penetrated the crystalline basement rocks, or where the latter rocks were exposed within a few kilometers of the holes, the upper crustal radiogenic heat production has been estimated based on gamma-ray spectrometric determinations of U, Th, and K abundances. Three heat-flow provinces are recognized in Australia based on the linear relation (q = q* + DA0 ) between heat flow q and surface radioactivity A0. New data from the Western Australian shield support earlier studies showing that heat flow is low to normal with values ranging from 0.7 to 1.2 hfu and with the majority of values less than 1.0 hfu, and the parameters q* = 0.63 hfu and 0 = 4.5 km determined previously were confirmed. Heat flow in the Proterozoic shield of central Australia is quite variable, with values ranging between about l and 3 hfu. This variability is attributed mainly to variations in near-surface crustal radioactivity. The parameters of the heat-flow line are q* = 0.64 hfu and 0 = 11.1 km and moderately high temperatures are predicted for the lower crust and upper mantle. Previous suggestions of a band of l ow- to - normal heat flow near the coast in eastern Australia were confirmed in some areas, but the zone is interrupted in at least one region (the Sydney Basin), where heat flow is about 2.0 hfu over a large area. The reduced heat flow, q*, in the Paleozoic intrusive rocks of eastern Australia varies from about 0.8 to 2.0 hfu . This variability might be related to thermal transients associated with Late Tertiary and younger volcanic and tectonic activity, even though the relation between heat-flow values and the age of volcanism is not a simple one. Parts of the high heat-flow area in the southeast might be exploitable for geothermal energy.

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Heat flow and near-surface radioactivity in the Australian continental crust
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Open-File Report
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U.S. Geological Survey
iii, 91 p.
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