The heliothermic lake: a direct method of collecting and storing solar energy

Open-File Report 80-807

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Heliothermic lakes contain a sun-heated layer of warm, saline water beneath a surface layer of cooler, less saline water. The two layers are separated by a chemocline, a stratum in which salinity increases progressively with depth. The chemocline, the position of which varies from lake to lake, functions as a heat trap. Most sunlight that penetrates this stratum is transformed into heat, which cannot escape by radiation because water is opaque to infrared light, and which cannot escape by convection because the specific gravity of the dense water below the chemocline is not significantly decreased by the increasing temperature. Heat can escape only by conduction through the chemocline, and water or brine is a very poor conductor. As a result, the temperature within and commonly below the chemocline rises. Under ideal conditions of a clear solution, high isolation, and a suitable salinity distribution, the temperature of the chemocline will increase to the boiling point. The lower part of the chemocline in a shallow (0.8-m) manmade heliothermic lake at Sedom, Israel, for example, reached a temperature of 96°C (205°F) in spite of a brine with poor light transmissibility.

About 30 natural heliothermic lakes have been reported. The best known, Lake Ursului, occurs in Transylvania, Romania (latitude, 46°35'N). During four consecutive summers, 1899 to 1902, this lake had temperatures of 60-70°C (140-158°F) at a depth of 1-2 m. Heliothermic conditions have persisted in this lake for at least 28 and probably for more than 77 years. The most unusual, Lake Vanda, Victoria Land, Antarctica (latitude, 77°35'S), has a temperature of 26°C near the base of the chemocline at a depth of 61 despite a mean atmospheric temperature of -20°C. Sunlight penetrates into the chemocline through 5 m of remarkably clear ice.

Maintenance of the chemocline is the chief problem preventing commercial use of manmade heliothermic lakes for the collection and storage of solar energy. The most effective means of preserving this stratum from destruction by diffusion and wind mixing may be the use of salts, such as sodium sulfate and sodium borate, whose solubilities are markedly influenced by temperature. The chemoclines of ponds constructed with such salts, in theory, would persist indefinitely and could be of great size.

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The heliothermic lake: a direct method of collecting and storing solar energy
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Open-File Report
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U.S. Geological Survey
vi, 126 p.