Image of a map of the world titled Ring of Fire. The ring of fire goes around the edges of the Pacific. The map shows that volcanic activity occurs around the Pacific rim.

The Ring of Fire lines the edges of the Pacific Ocean.

Source: Adapted from National Energy Education Development Project (public domain)

Geothermal reservoirs are naturally occurring areas of hydrothermal resources. These reservoirs are deep underground and are largely undetectable above ground. Geothermal energy finds its way to the earth's surface in three ways:

  • Volcanoes and fumaroles (holes in the earth where volcanic gases are released)
  • Hot springs
  • Geysers

Most geothermal resources are near tectonic plate boundaries

The most active geothermal resources are usually found along major tectonic plate boundaries where most volcanoes are located. One of the most active geothermal areas in the world is called the Ring of Fire, which encircles the Pacific Ocean.

U.S. geothermal resource map
U.S. Geothermal Resource Map
Click to enlarge »

Source: U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy

When magma comes near the earth's surface, it heats ground water trapped in porous rock or water running along fractured rock surfaces and faults. Hydrothermal features have two common ingredients, water (hydro) and heat (thermal).

Geologists use various methods to find geothermal reservoirs. Drilling a well and testing the temperature deep underground is the most reliable method for locating a geothermal reservoir.

U.S. geothermal power plants are located in the West

Most of the geothermal power plants in the United States are in western states and Hawaii, where geothermal energy resources are close to the earth's surface. California generates the most electricity from geothermal energy. The Geysers dry steam reservoir in Northern California is the largest known dry steam field in the world and has been producing electricity since 1960.