Subsurface thermal measurements are the most effective, least ambiguous tools for identifying and delineating possible geothernml resources. Measurements of thermal gradient in the upper few tens of meters generally are sufficient to outline the major anomalies, but it is always desirable to combine these gradients with reliable estimates of thermal conductivity to provide data on the energy flux and to constrain models for the heat sources responsible for the observed, near-surface thermal anomalies. The major problems associated with heat-flow measurements in the geothermal exploration mode are concerned with the economics of casing and/or grouting holes, the repeated site visits necessary to obtain equilibrium temperature values, the possible legal liability associated with the disturbance of underground aquifers, the surface hazards presented by pipes protruding from the ground, and the security problems associated with leaving cased holes open for periods of weeks to months.
We have developed a technique which provides reliable 'real-time' determinations of temperature, thermal conductivity, and hence, of heat flow during the drilling operation in unconsolidated sediments. A combined temperature, gradient, and thermal conductivity experiment can be carried out, by driving a thin probe through the bit about 1.5 meters into the formation in the time that would otherwise be required for a coring trip. Two or three such experiments over the depth range of, say, 50 to 150 meters provide a high-quality heat-flow determination at costs comparable to those associated with a standard cased 'gradient hole' to comparable depths. The hole can be backfilled and abandoned upon cessation of drilling, thereby eliminating the need for casing, grouting, or repeated site visits.