Lombardi Research Group - Tha Latera Caldera
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Tha Latera Caldera

Tha Latera Caldera

The Latera caldera, located about 80km to the NW of Rome, is an agricultural valley in which naturally-produced CO2 is actively being released to the atmosphere.

Now inactive for over 0.16 Ma, this volcanic structure still has an extremely high geothermal gradient which creates CO2 via thermo-metamorphic reactions in carbonate rocks at >500m depth.

This gas then migrates along faults to the surface where it is released from small areas know as gas vents. Despite the large quantity of CO2 released from the caldera floor (estimates range from 50 to 350 tonnes per day), people have lived and cultivated this land for hundreds of years. The site first generated scientific interest during the 1980’s when the Italian energy company ENEL began exploring the caldera in the hopes of developing the geothermal energy reserves located deep below ground; this work created a wealth of data regarding the subsurface geology, structure, and geochemistry.

We began our work at the Latera caldera in 1983 in support of the geothermal research, conducting numerous soil gas surveys to help choose the locations for deep exploration wells. These surveys indicated locations where gas was migrating to surface, thereby defining areas where permeability may be high enough to use circulating water to recover the geothermal energy.

Since 2001 we have used the site as a natural laboratory within various European Community (EC) funded projects to assess safety, isolation, and potential impact issues related to the geological storage of man-made CO2.

This work started with the “Nascent” project, which used various sites throughout Europe where naturally-produced CO2 is either trapped in the subsurface or where it is leaking to the atmosphere.

The numerous regional and detailed soil gas surveys that we performed within the Latera caldera during this project helped better define leakage processes and pathways, while gas injection tests highlighted how the chemical properties of different gas species control their migration rates and distributions.

This work continued within the EC-funded "Network of Excellence" on CO2 geological storage (“CO2GeoNet”). Together with our CO2GeoNet partners we used the Latera site to study gas migration pathways and mechanisms, to better understand the potential impact of CO2 leakage on the environment, and tested and benchmarked a large number of geophysical, geochemical, biological, and remote sensing methods for site assessment and monitoring of CO2 geological storage sites. A number of research publications during this period have been well received and have firmly established Latera as an internationally recognised test site.

Most recently we have studied the potential impact of CO2 leakage on groundwater quality within the RISCS project. This work involved drilling shallow wells up-gradient, within, and down-gradient of a large CO2 leakage area and collecting groundwater samples for the analysis of major and trace elements. In contrast to similar work conducted at the San Vittorino site, the Latera results showed strong impacts within the leakage area due to the limited buffering capacity of the volcanic silicate-rich rocks, however down-gradient values appear to return to normal background concentrations due to mineral precipitation and adsorption processes.