Researchers Stunned by the Deepest Manhole Ever Created

”Cross section diagram of the earth's crust
Photo by antkevyv – yayimages.com

s a human species, we like to say we that we are able to explain just about everything that happens or has happened on our planet, whether it be from pride or just plain arrogance, but whatever the reason, something new come to bust our bubble.

Besides trying to find out everything about what’s on the surface of our planet, we’ve also tried to find out more about what’s below the surface. Russia and the United States both took on projects which saw them digging deep into the surface in order to unearth what lies below. What was found was more than what we expected. Here’s a little bit on what we’ve been able to find under the surface.

Inner Core

A few decades ago, we started becoming more and more adventurous in our endeavors to find out what lies under our feet. 1936 saw Inge Lehmann – a renowned seismologist of the time – discovered a distinctive inner core of the planet, which was different from the outer core. This distinction between the  solid inner core and the molten outer core was discovered by her when she was studying the seismograms during earthquakes, which took place in New Zealand. Her findings were the first major step in discovering what goes on deep within our planet.

Outer Core

Compressional waves were passed through the Earth to further understand the molten outer core. The manner in which the waves were deflected showed that there was clearly a molten outer core in the planet. Discovering the solid inner core was not as easy as it was to find out about the outer core. It wasn’t until 2005 that the compressional waves properly passed through the outer core to the inner core that we found out there is a solid inner core beyond the molten outer core.

Competing Superpowers

For the longest time, there were two superpowers in the world – The United States and the Soviet Union. Both of them were vying for dominance in every respect there was and this competition with each other became an immense motivation factor to learn more about the happenings below the surface.

Diagram of Earth's Inner Layers
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Earth%27s_Inner_Layers_denoting_the_LAB.png

Researchers from all over the world wanted to be the first to discover and share findings of our planet. Both sides were watching each other make more attempts to learn about the Earth’s composition and tried out-doing one another.

The Race For Space

While both of the superpowers were competing to find out what was below the surface, the main point of conflict was being able to go beyond the planet’s atmosphere and into space. This “Space Race” was not just specific to reaching beyond the atmosphere of the planet. It was a race to discover more than the other in multiple avenues.

The Soviets were the first to launch a satellite into space but the US took the cake by landing the first man on the moon in ’69. Fast forward a few years and the US and USSR worked together to orbit the Earth in ’75 with a combined crew of American astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts. The dissolution of the USSR saw greater cooperation levels between Russia and the US.

Super Drills

While both parties still wanted to become the first to know more about the planet’s composition, neither was in a hurry to just drill a hole and send scientists into it. There was a lot of caution being taken as the scientific communities of both countries were funded to find out more.

With a lot of work still left, the prospect of giant drills was finally being considered as a realistic option to find out more about the inner core of the planet. There was already a consensus that the planet would be much warmer on the inside so they designed these super drills that were capable of digging through without burning up or melting. This took an extensive amount of time to put together.

The Mohole

Refraction of P-waveThe assignment that the US took on for discovering more information was known as “Project Mohole”.  In 1909, a scientist named Mohorovicic discovered the boundary which separates the crust from the mantle (the layer just below the crust and before the inner core) and this boundary was called the Mohorovicic Discontinuity or Moho for short.

Both the US and the Russians wanted to reach the Mohole through their digging expeditions, which was 10 kilometers below the ocean floor and around 90 kilometers below the continental crust. It was clear to both of them that reaching the Moho would be the ideal manner to assert dominance over the other.

More Than What Was Expected

With plenty of digging and drilling being done to reach the Mohole, both parties managed to discover a lot more on their way, from the fossils deep below the surface of the earth to the organisms living in the previously unknown depths of the ocean.

At 49,000 feet, the Russians discovered the Mohorovicic discontinuity. At this point, things started to get a little too hot in a literal manner. The expected temperatures were far below what they actually turned out to be. The unprecedented temperatures of above 350 degrees Fahrenheit were seen and this borehole eventually became known as the Hole to Hell.

The Hole to Hell

The Kola Borehole stumped the scientific community at large because of how big an obstacle it became but it was not an endeavor without success. It led to massive geological studies and even more amazing discoveries such as the findings of 24 living organisms so deep below the surface.

The ‘Hell hole’ was labeled that because there were rumors of screams coming from the borehole and the people working on the project felt that they’d reach the depths of hell before they finished the project.

Amazing Event

While the prospect of actually discovering a Hole to Hell was dismissed, there have been more projects that focus on interesting findings based on these previous endeavors. The Borehole at Kola and the Mohole Project were put aside but led the way to the sharing of information by both scientific communities.

The more we know, the more we realize how clueless we are about our planet and as long as we keep asking the right questions, our curiosity will help us to learn more about the planet that we live on.  

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