Unleashing the secrets of the universe by digging into the earth’s core! Are you ready to explore? Learn more here!

Have you read the classic Jules Verne novel entitled “Journey to the Center of the Earth?” The science fiction novel definitely made our imagination run wild. But have you ever wondered what really is in the center of the earth?

Source: Maternity Week

In a remote peninsula somewhere in Russia, a group of scientists has spent decades drilling down the ground to reach the center of the earth. But after decades of hard work, the team made a discovery that forced them to stop digging deeper.

It was a race

The ambitious goal to dig towards the center of the earth started with a competition between the USA and the USSR to conquer the subterranean world. We all know the space race between the two nations to conquer outer space but little was known about another race to dig as far into the Earth’s crust as they possibly could.

Source: Maternity Week

You may think that dirt and rocks are not that compelling compared to the mystery of the cosmos but the Earth’s crust leads the way to the mantle – the mysterious inner layer that makes up 40% of Earth’s mass. What could that 40% be made of?

Project Mohole

In 1957, the US team took the lead in the digging race as they started Project Mohole. The project’s mission was to get a sample of the Earth’s mantle by drilling to the bottom of the ocean in an area off Guadalupe Island, Mexico. The team of engineers were able to drill through the bed of the Pacific Ocean as they were able to reach a depth of 601 feet.

Source: Maternity Week

Project Mohole was funded by the National Science Foundation. However, 8 years into the project, the funding was cut off by the US House of Representatives. Despite starting first, the Americans never got to the mantle.

Kola project:

It took a while for the USSR team to start their project. In fact, it was not until May 24, 1970, that the Russians started drilling toward the center of the Earth. They started drilling in the Pechengsky District, a low-populated area in the Kola Peninsula, Russia

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Source: Maternity Week

The Russian team had a simple goal – to dig as far as possible into the Earth’s crust. Of course, they aimed to go further than the 600 feet that the American team achieved. In fact, the goal was a minimum of 49,000 feet.

Specialized equipment

The Russian team used specialist equipment in their project. Drilling was done using the Uralmash-4E, which was a serial drilling rig used to drill oil wells. This rig was modified a bit to be able to reach a depth of 7,000 meters.

Source: ResearchGate

Throughout the project, the Soviet team developed instruments that would help them take direct physical measurements at the bottom of the borehole. Because of this, they had greater measurement integrity. In 1974, the team upgraded to an Uralmash-15000.

The Bertha Rogers Hole

While all of this is going on, the Americans had been doing some progress of their own as well. In 1974, the Lone Star Producing Company started drilling for oil in Washita County, Oklahoma. They never found oil but they were able to dig the deepest hole existing on the planet at that moment.

Source: Maternity Week

Their drill became the “Bertha Rogers hole” which is a manmade hole that reached over 31,400 feet below the surface of the Earth. Although no longer the deepest manmade hole in the world, it still remains to be the deepest manmade hole in America.

Surpassing the American team

On June 6, 1979, one of the boreholes created by the Russian team surpassed the depth of the Bertha Rogers hole. The borehole was dubbed SG-3. By 1983, the SG-3 borehole has reached a depth of 39,000 feet below the surface.

Source: Maternity Week

The hole had a width of 9 inches. This meant the Russian team was only 10,000 feet shy of their minimum goal. They stopped drilling for 12 months so that different researchers could come to visit and see the site.

Focusing on another borehole

When the Russian team resumed drilling a year later, they unexpectedly had a technical problem that forced them to stop drilling at borehole SG-3. Unfazed, the Russian team decided to start again with another borehole. This borehole had a depth of 23,000 feet.

Source: Maternity Week

In 1989, the new borehole the Russian team focused on reached its goal. In fact, the drilling reached 40,230 feet deep. That was about 7.5 miles into the Earth’s crust. This encouraged the team and made them believe that they could reach 44,000 feet sometime in 1990.

An unexpected heat

But things did not go as well as the Russian team had hoped for. As they dug deeper, they had no idea they were about to come in contact with something unexpected. As their drill slowly inched closer to the earth’s center, a complete change occurred.

Source: Maternity Week

The first change was that the temperature inside the borehole started to change. As they dug further, the heat started to shoot up faster. By the time they were nearing their target of 49,000 feet, the heat in the hole was already 180 °C (356 °F) to a full 80 °C (176 °F). The team did not expect this much heat.

Plastic rocks

The heat is not the only strange thing the Russian team noticed as they dug further into the borehole. The researchers found that the rocks at those depths were less dense. And because of this, the rocks reacted differently to the higher temperatures.

Source: Dark Ecology

For instance, the rocks had an almost plastic-like texture. This strange texture eventually became a problem because it made it almost impossible to drill through the rocks. Not only that but the heat and the rocks were too much for their machine.

The end of the journey

It was at this point that the Russian team started to think that their drilling toward the center of the Earth would be over soon. Their equipment would not last long with the extreme heat and the plastic-like rocks.

Source: Atlas Obscura

They tried to press on with the project until 1992 but they never got to go any deeper. They had no choice but to discontinue drilling. The drill site was officially shut down and the Kola superdeep borehole was sealed in 2005. Although the project was abandoned, it does not mean that the whole thing was a bust.

Fascinating finds

The research team was able to gather some fascinating findings before they sealed up the borehole – which they dubbed the Kola Superdeep Borehole. The Kola Superdeep Borehole became a geological treasure trove of information.

Source: Maternity Week

Although the Russian team failed to reach the mantle, they were able to dig the deepest hole known to mankind. And in their dig, they were able to uncover a lot of information that made a huge difference to the science community.

2-Billion-Year-Old Fossil

At four miles deep, the research team found tiny fossils of single-celled marine organisms, proving that there was biological activity in the rocks. It was something unexpected to have something living so deep beneath the surface.

Source: HashtagChatter

The fossils were in very good condition given that they were encased several miles below the earth’s surface for a very long time. In fact, the fossils were estimated to be over 2 billion years old. The science community definitely found this as a win.

Updated temperature map

The temperature map of the Earth’s interior was updated thanks to the findings from the Kola Superdeep Borehole. Now geologists have more realistic data to rely on when it comes to the Earth’s temperature.

Source: Maternity Week

The temperatures encountered during the drill turned out to be much higher than what was expected. It was a huge change in the field of Geology proving that we can still learn so much more over the years. And that’s all thanks to the Russian team.

Debunking theories

The Russian project produced a lot of geological data that expanded what we know about the Earth. The Kola superdeep borehole gave a direct look at the structure of the crust and was able to confirm and debunk a lot of theories in geology.

Source: Sequential Stratigraphy

One of these theories is the “Conrad discontinuity” which predicted that there was a transition from granite to basalt 3 to 6 kilometers beneath the surface. The Kola Superdeep Borehole findings would debunk this theory.

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