In northwestern Russia, you are going to find a remote peninsula that carries a huge mystery. A team of scientists had been drilling there towards the center of the Earth for decades. The borehole, which has a depth of 40,000 feet, is known as the deepest the human race has ever reached. However, something came up that put a stop to their plans of digging any deeper. In the end, they did not have any choice but to close it for good. But what exactly could have gone wrong? Read on to find out…
Above And Below
Is it really a surprise that we want to know what is going on beneath the ground? Humans have always had a fascination with the unknown. This also explains why we are so curious about the skies. Thanks to global space agencies and private companies, we have since expanded our knowledge of the universe. In 1957, the first artificial satellite was sent into space. This is far from the last time that we have sought out what we do not know. We have also tried to learn more about the subterranean at the same time.
The Cold War
There is even a theory that claims our knowledge of space is vaster than what we know about the things lying beneath the ground. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the United States took part in a space race. Their mission was to learn more about the cosmos, but they were just as interested in what lies beneath our feet in those days.
Race To The Depths
In the late ‘50s, both Soviet and American scientists began to plan experiments that would penetrate the crust. It is the name of the part of the planet that spans thirty miles towards the center of the Earth. What comes after this dense shell is known as the mantle. The mysterious inner layer actually makes up around 40 percent of the mass of the planet.
The United States kicked it off with Project Mohole. The site of the project was near the Mexican town of Guadalupe. It involved drilling through the bed of the Pacific Ocean. The engineers managed to reach a depth of over 600 feet. Sadly, the project was ultimately abandoned eight years after its funding was cut. In the end, the Americans did not meet their goal to get to the mantle.
After this, the Soviets decided to give it a go. A team of researchers began to drill into the crust at a spot below the Pechengsky District. It is a sparsely populated part of the Kola Peninsula in Russia. They had a pretty simple goal, all things considered. They simply wanted to go as deep as they possibly could.
What Their Goal Is
The Soviets had been planning to reach a depth of 49,000 feet underneath the surface of the Earth. They used specialist equipment to dig a couple of boreholes forking off from one cavity. While they were working on this project, American prospectors had been making progress of their own at the same time.
Bertha Rogers Hole
In 1974, the Lone Star Producing Company had been busy drilling for oil when it created the “Bertha Rogers hole” in western Oklahoma. You will find the man-made wonder in Washita County. How deep is it? Well, it reaches up to 31,400 feet below the ground, which means that it is nearly six miles deep.
Breaking The Record
While the Lone Star Producing Company did not find what it was looking for, this was the deepest hole on the planet for five years. A borehole in Kola ended up setting a new record on June 6, 1979. Called SG-3, the nine-inches-wide hole penetrated a cool 39,000 feet into the crust as of 1983.
After That Milestone
After the researchers made this milestone, the Kola Peninsula deep put down their tools temporarily. They stopped working on the site for a year so that other people could pay it a visit. Twelve months after that, they restarted the operation, only to experience a technical issue that made them stop.
Not Losing Hope
Despite this, the researchers did not lose hope. They simply abandoned the first borehole and started from scratch. This time, they managed to dig up to 23,000 feet into the ground. By 1989, they broke the previous record by penetrating a depth of 40,230 feet or 7.5 miles. It must have made them feel more confident. If things kept going well, they would be able to bypass 44,000 feet near the end of 1990.
Something Down There
It was even more impressive when they made the prediction that they would get to 49,000 feet as early as 1993. However, there was something unexpected lurking below the remote tundra. As they got closer and closer to the center of the Earth, they stumbled into something that made them rethink their plan.
The Unexpected Temperature
For most of the dig, the expectations that the researchers had about the temperature aligned with what they found. This was the case for the first 10,000 feet. However, they noticed something strange after this. The level of heat climbed faster than they assumed it would! As they approached their target, the temperature of the borehole was 356 °F or 180 °C, which is 186 °F or 80 °F higher than they had in mind.
There Was More
That was not the only thing that they found out either. Researchers also saw that at that depth, the rock was much less dense than they thought it would be. This made it react with the very high temperatures in unpredictable ways. They had no choice but to abandon their mission since the equipment would not withstand the heat. It was already 1992 by the time that they did so, 22 years after they started digging.
The Kola Superdeep Borehole
Before they shut down the project, they learned other fascinating things about the Kola Superdeep Borehole. For one, they discovered fossils of marine plants around four miles into the dig. The relics were surprisingly preserved, especially considering the fact that they had been there for a very long time. Just so you know, the rock was believed to be over two billion years old at the time!
Not What They Expected
Not only that, but they also made an even more exciting discovery at the depths of the Kola Superdeep Borehole. While they were measuring seismic waves, they learned that they were wrong to assume that the rock underneath was going to turn from granite to basalt at around two to four miles deep. What exactly did they learn about the type of rock that far down into the crust?
It Was Still Granite
They learned that it was still granite even at the deepest parts of the borehole. After a little while, they arrived at the conclusion that the metamorphic differences in the rock caused the seismic wave change, not a shift from granite to basalt. However, this turned out to also be wrong. They were impressed when they saw flowing water several miles into the crust! Needless to say, they did not expect this at all.
Proof Of Biblical Flood
There were some people who took the presence of water to be evidence of biblical flood. On the other hand, the phenomenon is also thought to be the result of strong pressure that forced oxygen and hydrogen atoms to come out of the rock. After this, impermeable rocks caused the newly formed water to be trapped underneath the surface.
Closure And Collapse
When they closed the Kola Superdeep Borehole, the timing coincided with the fall of the Soviet Union. They permanently closed the project by 1995. Around that time, it was even thought to be an environmental hazard. If you want to check out the relics from the mission, all you have to do is head to the town of Zapolyarny, which is six miles or so from the site. How impressive is it that no one has beaten its record yet? Yes, the borehole still holds the title of the deepest artificial point on Earth.
The Race To The Center
Mind you, its closure did not mark the end of the desire to get to the center of the Earth. In the oceans, the International Ocean Discovery Program has been drilling platforms in the hopes of finding out what goes on beneath the sea floor. Failing equipment and extreme temperatures also make this very hard.
Below The Water
They make trips underneath the water to do something else. Their goal is not only to reach the mantle. For one, there is a two-man submersible that was plunged into the depths of the Antarctic in the name of discovery. The goal of the crew was to go as deep below the water as they could. This is the deepest that anyone has gotten in the water around the South Pole. But what exactly did they see there? It is not an exaggeration to say that they got to look at a world that no one has ever ventured before.
Years Of Careful Planning
Just so you know, this was not only a spur-of-the-moment project either. In fact, they had to plan it out for two years before they found the ideal place and time for the dive. It was a good idea to wait it out. After all, we know very little about what actually happens on the ocean floor.
We Know Little About It
The truth is that we know more about Mars than we know about the ocean floors. Let us give you an idea of how ironic this is. Earth is 140 million miles away from our neighboring planet, while the average depth of the ocean is no more than 12,000 feet. It is only around two miles away from the ground!
Not Easy At All
It is not at all easy to explore the depths of the Antarctic. This is part of the reason they had to spend a long time figuring out the right place for the descent. They eventually went with a spot called the “Iceberg Alley.” There is a good reason this place is called that.
In The Antarctic
The alley in question forms a channel near one of the northernmost points of the Antarctic Peninsula. This stretch of sea is full of shifting ice chunks. Some of the pieces are the size of a motor vehicle, while others are as big as half a square mile. This made it even more challenging to accomplish the descent.
Diving Into The Unknown
Yes, the crew was truly on a mission to check out the unknown. There is a documentary that you can watch to learn more about it. Executive producer James Honeyborne talked about all the setbacks that had been in their way. He even likened Iceberg Alley to “a giant game of Space Invaders” when he spoke to the BBC. The mission was not only hard because of the position. There were other problems as well.
So Many Unknowns
For one thing, they did not know how the submarines were going to perform at such a depth. The distance was going to place a lot of strain on them. The concerns eventually died out as they started to descend. Below the waves, they discovered an amazing ecosystem with the most bizarre creatures. There was even a creature that they ended up naming after a character in Star Wars.
More Life There
Life below the waves has a tendency to be harsh and difficult, but you will find a lot of strange sea creatures down there. “Within a square yard there is more life in the deep of the Antarctic than there is in the reefs of the Barrier Reef of Australia,” explained Mark Taylor when he spoke to LADbible. He was a part of the dive team. Let us hear more about the quest to conquer the depths of the Antarctic.
Thick Marine Snow
One of the challenges that they found had been the marine snow, which was “thicker than [he’s] seen it anywhere else in the world’s oceans.” These words came from Dr. Jon Copley of the University of Southampton. There is no need to worry if you do not know what marine snow is. Read on to find out!
Important Food Source
If this is the first time that you have ever heard of it, marine snow is organic material flowing from the upper part of the waters down to the ocean floor. It is a valuable food source for the creatures down there. This allows nutrients and energy to transfer to the parts of the water with little sunlight.
Krill Poo Too
Krill poo makes for another important source of food in that part of the Antarctic Ocean. The small crustaceans live in the oceans and have a huge role in the ecosystem. Their excrement turns the sea floor into a muddy habitat that is ideal for supporting other creatures that far down. Just so you know, the animals that thrive in the area are among the strangest creatures that we have ever seen!
The Antarctic Sunstar
For example, take a look at the Antarctic sunstar. The bizarre creature has received a sinister name courtesy of the researchers. It is called Death Star, but we are sure that you can figure out why this is the case. Its official scientific name is Labidiaster annulatus. Considered a relative of the starfish, you can think of it as the weird and elusive cousin of the common marine animal.
Also Known As The Death Star
Isn’t it fascinating to hear that the Death Star can have as many as 50 arms? When it comes to size, it can grow bigger than a hubcap. The arms are also covered by skin with small pincers that close if you make contact with it. This body part often catches krill passing by. There is more, however.
How It Is Done
Fish is the dominant predator in most oceans of the world. However, the Death Star is a good example of how different things are in the Antarctic. The water here is extremely cold, which is why fish does not typically survive. This is the reason the Antarctic sunstar and the like are at the top of the food chain.
Diving Down There
When you go to the Antarctic, you are looking at something important. It serves as a window into what the ancient oceans had been like. “It’s the animals without backbones that dominate and that dominate as predators,” shared Dr. Copley, “And that’s how the oceans were more than 250 million years ago.”
The Ice Dragonfish
Let us now talk about another strange creature in the Antarctic Ocean. The ice dragonfish, officially called Cryodraco antarcticus, has adapted to survive the harsh weather conditions. It has proteins in its blood that function as antifreeze so that it does not freeze over. Its blood is also clear because it has no need for hemoglobin to keep the circulation of oxygen in the body going.
A Deeper Understanding
Together with the rest of the team, Dr. Copley took on this mission for a number of things. It is not all about observing the creatures in the region. Still, we can’t stress just how valuable it is to get to know the marine life. This has even allowed them to carry out better conservation methods in the South Pole.
How Our Lives Are Connected
“On these dives, we watched the everyday lives of Antarctic deep-sea animals, helping us to understand them much better than studying specimens collected by nets or trawls from ships,” Dr. Copley told the BBC. He went on to say, “And [it’s] helping us to investigate how our own lives are connected to this remote yet fragile environment.”
Still A Mystery
In reality, even the closest parts of the oceans continue to be a mystery. Dr. Copley is hopeful that this expedition is going to change things in some way. He said, “Sending people a kilometer deep into the ocean around Antarctica for the first time shows that there is no longer any part of our blue planet that is inaccessible to us, if we can find the will to go there.”
Something Even More Profound
These missions have allowed us to better understand the world that we live in. Aside from checking out the mysterious creatures there, we have also learned something even deeper and more profound. It has to do with the act of reaching a place that has been so inaccessible in the past. “What we’re doing now is exploration in its purest sense,” shared Dr. Copley said, “If we all share in the exploration of our planet, then… we’ll all feel involved in its stewardship for the future.” What a profound sentiment!