Pilgrim Hot Springs is located in the center of Pilgrim River Valley and spans an area of approximately one-half square mile of thawed permafrost, where water that has been heated by geothermal energy seeps to the surface and creates natural hot streams and pools.
For many years Pilgrim Hot Springs has been known as a resource to the people of the Bering Strait Region. Historically, this hot water was used to heat buildings within this valley. Geothermal energy is a resource that has provided numerous benefits for many years and still does to this day.
Currently, when guests of the Pilgrim Hot Springs jump into our hot springs pools, they experience an example of a direct use of the geothermal energy. In the near future Unaatuq plans to continue following its mission statement of; "Promoting the wellbeing of our people through sharing, protecting, and responsibly developing the resources of Pilgrim Hot Springs.”
With geothermal resources we plan to provide food security to the region by expanding agricultural operations and growth. Expanding the economic benefits by increasing tourism and recreational opportunities.
geothermal power benefits
Pilgrim Hot Springs provides numerous direct uses of geothermal energy to the Bering Straits Region. Currently the most obvious use of this resource can be experienced when you visit Pilgrim Hot Springs and jump into our hot springs pools for a nice soak – this is known as a direct use! The geothermal power potential of Pilgrim Hot Springs was first recognized as early as 1917 and was categorized for the first time in the 1980’s with a series of test wells. In 2007, a feasibility study was conducted to analyze developing Pilgrim into an active geothermal resource. In 2014, the Alaska Center for Energy and Power led an intensive exploration effort to categorize the resource and explore the potential for geothermal power production and distribution to the City of Nome. At this time, most studies and modeling efforts have concluded that providing geothermal power to the City of Nome would be too expensive and not currently feasible.
Future project plans
Aside from the uses mentioned above, geothermal power can be used to create electricity! Unaatuq currently has plans to create a geothermal power plant onsite to distribute power to the facilities and for guests to use. Some geothermal waters (like from volcanic systems) are so hot that they come out of the surface as steam. This type of resource can be used to drive a steam turbine to create power. Our waters are low-temperature – up to approximately 195 degrees Fahrenheit – and this means we can use a low-temperature generator system to create power. Utilizing this form of energy we plan to recreate and modernize the historic greenhouses that were previously located on the property, so we can extend our growing season and help to address food security concerns in our region. By responsibly developing the geothermal resources of Pilgrim Hot Springs, Unaatuq is working to achieve our vision and mission. Unaatuq’s mission is to create: “A protected arctic oasis that provides for our people.” Our mission is “To promote the wellbeing of our people through sharing, protecting, and responsibly developing the resources of Pilgrim Hot Springs.
Pilgrim Hot Springs has been known as a resource to the people of the Bering Strait Region for many generations. In William Oquilluk’s “The People of Kauwerak,” legends of the hot springs are referred to in Chapter VI. Winter Comes. “Soon the weather was changing. It was getting cool at night. Then it began to frost up during the night, but when the sun came up the frost melted away. Ekeuhnick and Seelameu decided they had to plan to winter somewhere. One of them said, ‘We must go back to the hot water creek. There is a lot of game around there and it will be warmer.’ The men turned back toward the hot springs. When they arrived they prepared to stay for the winter. They built an igloo (a shelter place). They took cottonwood poles and bent and tied them to make a frame. Then they took skins of caribou and covered the poles to make a tent. Next they took pieces of sod they cut from the ground and covered the tent. This would keep them warm when the wind blew and it was cold.” (Oquilluk, 1973) In the early 1900’s, Pilgrim Hot Springs was homesteaded and used for farming activities, a roadhouse and saloon, and a bathhouse for travelers and miners passing through. The property was deeded to “Kruzgamepa Hot Springs Company,” named after the Kruzgamepa River (aka. Pilgrim River). In 1908, the saloon and various other buildings were lost to fire. In 1917, the property was deeded to the Catholic church, and eventually the site would become home to Our Lady of Lourdes Mission and Orphanage, and the Pilgrim Springs Boarding School. As mentioned before, historically the site was use for rest and relaxation by people of the region, and then used for bathing, soaking, and laundry during the mission and orphanage years.
Geothermal Aspects & Utilities
"But why is the water hot?" Instead of the heat source coming directly from a volcanic system, like in other geothermal areas, the hot water at Pilgrim Hot Springs exists because heat is escaping from the planet’s interior to the outer crust. “The heat, derived from early planetary formation and radioactive decay, can produce such features as hot springs...” (Miller) As seen historically, on the site the hot water was also used directly to heat building; in the Catholic Church building where hot water radiators throughout the building, and the hot geothermal waters were piped into these to warm the structure during the cold winter months.
Currently, we are using our geothermal energy on site to heat bathing pools for guests and local visitors. We are also growing food in our gardens by planting directly into the warm ground. In the next couple of years, we will be installing greenhouses on the property to extend our agriculture season. Also, we will be installing a small geothermal powerplant, with funding from the Department of Energy – Office of Indian Energy, to power onsite facilities. The powerplant will be a small Organic Rankine Cycle system, which will produce up to 75 kilowatts of rated power for our facilities on site.
Miller, Joshua. (2013). A conceptual model of the Pilgrim Hot Springs geothermal system, Seward Peninsula, Alaska.
Oquilluk, William. A.; Bland, Laurel, L. (1973) People of Kauwerak, Legends of the Northern Eskimo, Alaska Methodist University, Alaska Pacific University Press.
Pilgrim Hot Springs Geothermal Exploration, Alaska Center for Energy and Power, University of Alaska Fairbanks. https://acep.uaf.edu/projects-(collection)/pilgrim-hot-springs-geothermal-assessment.aspx