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Bedretto Underground Laboratory for Geosciences and Geoenergies

The BedrettoLab (Bedretto Underground Laboratory for Geosciences and Geoenergies) is a unique research infrastructure run by ETH Zurich making it possible to take a close look at the Earth’s interior. It is located in the Swiss Alps 1.5 kilometres below the surface and in the middle of a 5.2 kilometres long tunnel connecting the Ticino with the Furka railway tunnel.

Equipped with the latest technology, the BedrettoLab offers ideal conditions to conduct experimental research focusing on the behaviour of the deep underground when accessing and stimulating it. Such an access is required to advance scientific knowledge in various domains including geothermal energy and earthquake physics. It is also of relevance to develop novel techniques and sensors for these purposes.

Learn more about the scope of the project.



First long-term injection experiment successfully finished

At the end of April, the BedrettoLab team successfully conducted their first long-term injection experiment. The experiment lasted several days aiming to generate an earthquake of about magnitude 0 and monitor it from close by.
Following a week of preliminary tests and a four-day preparation phase, high-pressure hydraulic stimulation commenced, with around-the-clock real-time monitoring. The target earthquake occurred at 6 o'clock in the morning of 30 April, somewhat earlier than expected, achieving the experiment's goal and prompting the cessation of injection.

In an earthquake of this magnitude, the rock moves along a plane by about 1-2 millimeters over an area of roughly 5-by-5 meters. This rupture lasts only a millisecond and radiates seismic waves, which our sensitive monitoring arrays are designed to capture. The waves are much too weak to be felt at the surface.
The seismology team uses these detailed recordings of such a small event to study the physical processes that occur during an earthquake. A better understanding of such processes may lead to improvements in earthquake risk mitigation and management in the future. It also contributes to better management of induced seismicity related to deep geothermal energy projects. Currently, the team is analyzing and modeling the collected data, and preparing the next long-term injection scheduled for autumn.


BedrettoLab team at SOLA Staffette 2024

Last Saturday 14 team members participated at the SOLA Staffette, a relay race covering a total of 113 km in and around the city of Zurich. The team finished in 545th place out of 997 teams and was the fastest among many teams from the Earth Science Department of ETH Zurich.


First long-term injection experiment starting in mid-April

The BedrettoLab team is embarking on a new phase of experiments. As part of the FEAR project, a sequence of hydraulic stimulation experiments will start in mid-April. Leveraging on insights gained from the VALTER experiments, the team plans continued injections for an extended period of two to four days, allowing the reactivation and extension of the fracture network of the reservoir created in past experiments. Scientifically, the team is focusing mainly on the seismic response of the reservoir and aims to scale up the seismicity to larger events than previously observed.

In past experiments, the largest observed micro-earthquake was about a magnitude -2; in the upcoming M0 experiment, the team strives to reach about a magnitude 0. Such an event is about 100 times larger in amplitude and releases about 1´000 times more energy than a magnitude -2. Such an event would rupture a patch of about two by two meters by about one centimetre, allowing us to study when and where such a micro-earthquake starts, how it ruptures, and when it stops. For comparison, a natural earthquake of magnitude 6 that occurs in Switzerland every 50 to 150 years ruptures a patch of 10 by 10 kilometres by one meter, releasing about 1 billion times more energy.

Magnitude 0 events have already occurred naturally in the vicinity of the tunnel, and such micro-earthquakes remain about 100 to 1’000 times too small to be felt by people in the Bedretto Valley at a distance of several kilometres. The likelihood of induced larger events that could be detected in the Bedretto Valley remains extremely low. However, even micro-earthquakes of magnitude zero to one can be felt if experienced within a few meters or tens of meters of them. To eliminate even the smallest risk to people in the tunnel, these experiments will not only be very closely monitored, but they will also for the first time be fully remote controlled. During the main injection, no people will be allowed in the tunnel. This remote-control capability will be even more important later in the FEAR project when patches of 10 meters are the target size. 

During the main part of the experiment, about twenty dedicated members of the BedrettoLab team will be working in 24/7 shifts over a period of one week. Their primary task will be to monitor the pressure, flow rate, deformation, and seismicity behaviour in real-time. The geobiological and geochemical response of the reservoir will also be closely monitored, for example, to detect pre-cursors before larger ruptures. As implemented for previous experiments, two traffic light systems regulate the experiment, and if the observed vibrations or magnitude exceed pre-defined thresholds, the experiment will be ended immediately and bleed-off initiated; past experiments have shown that seismicity will then within minutes to hours decrease strongly.

Virtual Tour

Click on play and get a deep insight into the BedrettoLab.

Geo-INQUIRE call #2

The EU Project Geo-INQUIRE (Geosphere INfrastructures for QUestions into Integrated REsearch) fosters excellent, interdisciplinary and curiosity-driven research of the solid Earth, including land-sea-atmosphere interfaces. An objective of project Geo-INQUIRE is to provide transnational access to unique high-level installations and experiments to selected users to perform research. The BedrettoLab and its three testbeds (Geothermal Testbed, Earthquake Physics Testbed and the Deep Life Observatory) are made available to the research community through the 2nd Open Call for projects, open between May 22nd and July 11th. For further information and to apply please visit the Geo-INQUIRE website.


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