Resources in Sedimentary Rocks: Water & Heat


Sedimentary rock hosts resources that are of great importance to meeting the challenges confronting society during the 21st century.

In hyperarid northern Chile, water resources held in sedimentary rock aquifers underpinned economic growth over the last century, but this groundwater is at risk of over-exploitation if not properly managed. Good management requires an understanding of the recharge conditions and of the interconnections among aquifers. In collaboration with hydrogeologists and geochemists, our research group puts to use knowledge of the basin fill and of paleoclimate variability to better understand groundwater systems in the Atacama Desert.



Most energy resources that have been consumed by humans in the last two centuries came from sedimentary rocks. Even as fossil fuels are progressively phased out, sedimentary rocks continue to offer an energy source: they host heat. Fuller exploitation of low-temperature geothermal energy resources offers a carbon-free way to meet a significant part of the US’s energy needs.

Sedimentary basins, such as the Appalachian basin of New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, contain and overlie large resources of hot rock at depths that are well within the range of conventional energy boreholes. If water can be circulated through those rocks to extract the heat, the heat can be brought to the surface and utilized for direct-use energy. The U.S. Department of Energy currently funds our research, to demonstrate at Cornell University that this heat energy strategy can succeed.

The application of sedimentary geology to solving resource questions requires interdisciplinary approaches. Cornell’s Energy Systems Institute focuses on taking system-wide approaches to discover and develop improved energy technologies, taking into account environmental requirements as well as economic constraints.



Related Publications


  • Godfrey, L., Herrera, C., Burr, G., Houston, J., Aguirre, I., and Jordan, T., 2021, d13C and 14C activity of groundwater DOC and DIC in the volcanically active and arid Loa Basin of northern Chile: Journal of Hydrology, v. 595, 125987
  • Herrera L., C., Godfrey, L., Urrutia M., J., Custodio, E., Jordan, T., Jódar, J., and Delgado, K., 2021. Recharge and residence times of groundwater in hyper arid areas: The confined aquifer of Calama, Loa River Basin, Atacama Desert. Science of the Total Environment, v. 752, paper 141847, doi:
  • Jordan, T.E., Herrera, C., Kirk-Lawlor, N., Godfrey, L., 2015, Architecture of the aquifers of the Calama Basin, Loa catchment basin, north Chile: Geosphere, v. 11, no. 5, p. 1438-1474, doi:10.1130/GES01176.1


  • Jordan, T.E., Fulton, P., Tester, J.W., Asanuma, H., Bruhn, D., 2020, Exploring by boring: geothermal wells as research tools, EOS, American Geophysical Union,
  • Jordan, T., Fulton, P., Tester, J., Bruhn, D., Asanuma, H., Harms, U., Wang, C., Schmitt, D., Vardon, P.J., Hofmann, H., Pasquini, T., Smith, J., and participants, W., 2020, Borehole research in New York State can advance utilization of low-enthalpy geothermal energy, management of potential risks, and understanding of deep sedimentary and crystalline geologic systems: Scientific Drilling, v. 28, p. 75–91.

  • Whealton, C.A., Stedinger, J.R., Smith, J.D., Jordan, T.E., Horowitz, F.G., and Richards, M.C., 2020, Multi-criteria spatial screening and uncertainty analysis applied to direct-use geothermal projects: International Journal of Geographical Information Science, doi: 10.1080/13658816.2020.1765247;
  • Tester, J., S. M. Beyers, J. O. Gustafson, T. E. Jordan, J. D. Smith, J. A. Al Aswad, K. F. Beckers, R. Allmendinger, L. D. Brown, F. Horowitz, D. May, T. M. Khan, and M. E. Pritchard, 2021, District Geothermal Heating Using EGS Technology to Meet Carbon Neutrality Goals: A Case Study of Earth Source Heat for the Cornell University Campus: Proceedings World Geothermal Congress, p. 1-22
  • Camp, Erin, Jordan, Teresa, Hornbach, Matthew, Whealton, Calvin, 2018, A probabilistic application of oil and gas data for exploration stage geothermal reservoir assessment in the Appalachian Basin: Geothermics, v. 71, p. 187-199. DOI:10.1016/j.geothermics.2017.09.001