Understanding hydrothermal circulation patterns at a low-enthalpy thermal spring using audio-magnetotelluric data: a case study from Ireland

Sarah Blake*, Tiernan Henry, Mark R. Muller, Alan G. Jones, John Paul Moore, John Murray, Joan Campanyà, Jan Vozar, John Walsh, Volker Rath

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


Kilbrook spring is a thermal spring in east-central Ireland. The temperatures in the spring are the highest recorded for any thermal spring in Ireland (maximum of 25 °C). The temperature is elevated with respect to average Irish groundwater temperatures (9.5–10.5 °C), and represents a geothermal energy potential, which is currently under evaluation. A multi-disciplinary investigation based upon an audio-magnetotelluric (AMT) survey, and hydrochemical analysis including time-lapse temperature and chemistry measurements, has been undertaken with the aims of investigating the provenance of the thermal groundwater and characterising the geological structures facilitating groundwater circulation in the bedrock. The three-dimensional (3-D) electrical resistivity model of the subsurface at Kilbrook spring was obtained by the inversion of AMT impedances and vertical magnetic transfer functions. The model is interpreted alongside high resolution temperature and electrical conductivity measurements, and a previous hydrochemical analysis. The hydrochemical analysis and time-lapse measurements suggest that the thermal waters have a relatively stable temperature and major ion hydrochemistry, and flow within the limestones of the Carboniferous Dublin Basin at all times. The 3-D resistivity model of the subsurface reveals a prominent NNW aligned structure within a highly resistive limestone lithology that is interpreted as a dissolutionally enhanced strike-slip fault, of Cenozoic age. The karstification of this structure, which extends to depths of at least 500 m directly beneath the spring, has provided conduits that facilitate the operation of a relatively deep hydrothermal circulation pattern (likely estimated depths between 560 and 1000 m) within the limestone succession of the Dublin Basin. The results of this study support the hypothesis that the winter thermal maximum and simultaneous increased discharge at Kilbrook spring is the result of rapid infiltration, heating and re-circulation of meteoric waters within this structurally controlled hydrothermal circulation system. This paper illustrates how AMT may be useful in a multi-disciplinary investigation of an intermediate-depth (100–1000 m), low-enthalpy, geothermal target, and shows how the different strands of inquiry from a multi-disciplinary investigation may be woven together to gain a deeper understanding of a complex hydrothermal system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Applied Geophysics
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Audio-magnetotellurics
  • Ireland
  • Low-enthalpy geothermal exploration
  • Thermal springs
  • Three-dimensional inversion


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