Borehole Provides Evidence of Newcastle’s Tropical Past

Newcastle upon Tyne may not be regarded as a tropical paradise today, but in the past this part of northern England looked very different.  In fact geologists working on a project to find hot water underground to heat city centre buildings have found evidence that the area was once part of a warm shallow sea that teemed with life.

In a £900,000 project funded by the Newcastle Science City Partnership and Department of Energy and Climate Change, Newcastle and Durham University geologists have been involved in the drilling of a 2,000 metre deep bore hole at a site just a free kick away from St James’ Park, the home of Newcastle United.  The team aim to tap into a reservoir of hot water heated to temperatures in excess of 80 Celsius that is being forced up through faults in a bed of granite rock.  The water could then be used to provide clean energy to heat a number of city centre buildings.

The drilling was expected to end this month, but fossils found in core samples taken from the drill site, provide a glimpse into the ancient past of this part of the world.  The cores show that in the past this part of northern England was once a shallow tropical sea, as fossils of crinoids (sea-lilies) and corals have been discovered embedded in the limestone portions of the geologist’s core samples.

Newcastle’s Tropical Past

Managers at the nearby Eldon Square Shopping Centre are excited about the project, General Manager Phil Steele stated:

“We can now look forward optimistically to using deep geothermal energy to supply part or all of our future energy needs and we look forward to working with Newcastle University to develop this major scientific enterprise for the city.”

Newcastle Institute for Research on Sustainability director Professor Paul Younger said:

“Our aim is to rise to the challenge of putting a novel form of deep geothermal energy at the very heart of city centre regeneration.  It’s an incredibly exciting project.  If we’re right and we pump up water at such elevated temperatures, it would mean a fully renewable energy supply for a large part of the city centre.  The Newcastle project is similar to one already operating in Southampton, where underground hot water is used along with oil and natural gas for a combined heat and power network.”

It seems that as well as tapping into geothermal resources the geologists and engineers responsible for the project have tapped into some interesting fossil bearing strata, revealing that once upon a time Newcastle resembled the Caribbean.

Typical Limestone Coral Fossils

Coral fossils (Carboniferous).

Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur

Team members at Everything Dinosaur think that the limestone would date from the Carboniferous Period.

For models and replicas of extinct animals from the Palaeozoic: Prehistoric Animal Models and Figures.

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