Subsurface Characterization

NREL's subsurface characterization capabilities include compiling, synthesizing, and interpreting geologic, geochemical, geophysical, geomechanical, and reservoir data; modeling data in 2D and 3D; and identifying and analyzing resource potential.

3D subsurface map.
NREL's innovative tools and analyses improve understanding of the subsurface and reduce the cost of geothermal exploration and development.

We apply our broad research and industrial experience to innovative analysis and assessment of geothermal resources to support government and industry efforts to advance geothermal discovery, development, and energy production.

Subsurface characterization extends from the surface down through reservoirs and beyond to understand geothermal resources ranging from shallow heat exchange and storage reservoirs to deep zones of supercritical fluids at the base of the seismogenic crust. With focus ranging from regional to prospect scale and through all phases of exploration and development, we aim to improve characterization of the subsurface environment by developing novel methodologies and workflows that capture and integrate disparate and limited subsurface data.


  • Geoscience data compilation, synthesis, and interpretation – Expertise in evaluating data quality, identifying data gaps, and developing workflows to optimize integration of subsurface data
  • 2D and 3D geological modeling – Analysis of integrated data through geological, structural, and geomechanical model building
  • Gravity and magnetics modeling – Analysis of potential fields data to inform and validate geological and structural models
  • Resource potential and drill targeting – Data integration, analysis, and model development to support discovery and development of geothermal resources
  • Reservoir testing, characterization, and performance forecasting – Data analysis and integration to support the development and validation of reservoir models and inform simulation design


A Novel Approach to Map Permeability Using Passive Seismic Emission Tomography, World Geothermal Congress (2020)

NREL Flatirons Campus Geothermal Opportunities Assessment: Proposed Contributions to Integrated Energy Systems at Scale, NREL Technical Report (2020)

Sedimentary Geothermal Feasibility Study, NREL Technical Report (2017)

View all NREL publications about geothermal research.


Ian Warren

Senior Geothermal Research Analyst