Earth’s Deepest Drilling Like a Hell’s Entrance: Earth Drilling Competition between Great Powers

BEIJING, Jan. 6 (Xinhua) — During the Cold War, both the United States and the Soviet Union have developed ambitious drilling plans to try to cross the Earth’s crust and reach the center of the earth, according tomedia reports. Lakes, forests, fog and snow, all on Russia’s Kola Peninsula deep in the Arctic Circle, look like a fairy tale. In this natural beauty, however, stands the ruins of a Soviet scientific research station. In the middle of the crumbling building, the concrete floor is embedded with a dark, rusty metal cap, anchored by a circle of equally rusty metal bolts.

Earth's Deepest Drilling Like a Hell's Entrance: Earth Drilling Competition between Great Powers

Some say it’s the entrance to hell. This is the Kola Superdeep Borehole, the deepest man-made hole on Earth, and the deepest man-made object to reach the earth. The building is 12.2 km deep, so much so that locals swear you can hear the screams of the souls who have been tortured in hell. It took the Soviets nearly 20 years to drill to such a deep distance, but when the project came to an abrupt end after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the drill bit sat into the crust to a third of the mantle.

The Soviet Union’s ultra-deep drilling is not an exception. During the Cold War, there was a race between the superpowers to get as deep as possible into the earth’s crust and even to the mantle.

Now, the Japanese want to try it. “Drilling started right in the Iron Curtain era, ” says Uli Hames of the International Continental Scientific Drilling Program (ICDP). Hames was a young scientist at the time, involved in the ultra-deep drilling project in Germany. “There must be competition between us. One of the main motivations was that the Russians didn’t really disclose their data,” Hames said. In the past, Western scientists generally believed that 5 kilometers underground, the crust is so dense that water cannot penetrate there. “

“The ultimate goal of the (new) project is to get actual samples of the mantle that are currently active,” said Sean Tozko, project manager at the Japan Marine Research and Development Agency. This is the difference between living dinosaur and dinosaur bone fossils. “

Earth's Deepest Drilling Like a Hell's Entrance: Earth Drilling Competition between Great Powers

If you compare the earth to an onion, the crust is like the thin skin of an onion, and it is only 40 kilometers thick. Beneath the earth’s crust is a 2,900 km deep mantle, and then down is the center of the Earth, the earth’s core.

Like the space race, the race to explore the unknown “deep frontier” showcases engineering capabilities and cutting-edge technology, as well as something “right.” Scientists go to places that no one has ever been to. The rock samples that these ultra-deep boreholes can provide may be as important to science as anything American astronauts bring back from the moon. The only difference is that the Americans didn’t win this time. In fact, no one really won.

The United States conducted its first preview in the race to explore the “deep frontier.” In the late 1950s, the American Hundred Sciences came up with the first serious plan to study the mantle. This is an informal group made up of leading figures in the American scientific community. They called the project project, which went directly across the earth’s crust, to the Project Mohole, named after the Croatian seismologist Andrea Mohorovic, who proposed Moho’s discontinuous ness.

Instead of drilling a deep hole, the Americans decided to drill under the Pacific Ocean near Guadalupe, Mexico. The advantage of undersea drilling is that the crust there is thinner, while the disadvantage is that the thinnest parts of the crust are usually the deepest parts of the ocean.

The Soviet Union began drilling in the Arctic Circle in 1970. In 1990, the German Continental Deep Drilling Program (KTB) was launched in Bavaria, with a final depth of 9 km.

As with the moon landing mission, the technology required for ultra-deep drilling must be explored from the beginning. Deep-sea drilling for oil and gas did not occur in 1961, when Moho planned to begin drilling on the seabed. Key technologies such as dynamic positioning were not invented at that time. In deep-sea drilling, this technique allows drillers to stay above wells. So the engineers had to find a way. They installed a propeller system on both sides of the rig to keep the vessel stable above the borehole.

Earth's Deepest Drilling Like a Hell's Entrance: Earth Drilling Competition between Great Powers

One of the biggest challenges for German engineers is how to drill a hole as vertical as possible. The solution they proposed at the time is now the standard technology of the world’s oil and gas fields.

“In the Russian experience, you have to drill as vertically as possible, or you’ll increase the torque of the rig and create a kink in the hole,” says Uli Hames. “It’s an industry standard now, but they were originally developed for the Deep Drilling Program on the mainland. The system worked until drilling at a depth of 7.5 kilometers, but at the last 1.5 to 2 kilometers, the hole deviated nearly 200 meters from the vertical line.

“In the early 1990s or late 1980s, when Russia became more open and willing to work with the West, we tried to use some Russian technology,” Hames added. “

In the end, all these expeditions ended in some degree of frustration. Some have encountered obstacles at the start, others are the high temperatures in the depths of the ground, combined with cost and politics, all of which have dashed scientists’ dreams. They all want to drill deeper and break the record for the deepest hole.

Two years before Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, Congress withdrew funding for the Mojo project as costs began to spiral out of control. The secret rock, which scientists mined a few meters thick, cost about $40 million in today’s currency.

Then it was Cora’s turn to drill deep. In 1992, when the temperature reached 180 degrees Celsius, drilling stopped. This temperature is twice the original estimate, and it is impossible to drill deep ercy. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was no money to finance the projects; Today, this desolate place is a destination for adventurous tourists.

Germany’s ultra-deep drilling has not suffered as bad luck as other projects. Huge rigs are still there and today have become tourist attractions. The place has actually become an observatory on earth, or even an art gallery.

Earth's Deepest Drilling Like a Hell's Entrance: Earth Drilling Competition between Great Powers

When Dutch artist Lottie Geven put a microphone with a heat shield into a deep hole in Germany, the microphone received a low rumbling sound that scientists could not explain. The rumbling made her “feel very small.” “This is the first time in my life that I’ve seen this big ball that we live on, and it’s so memorable,” she said. Some people think it sounds like hell, while others think that what they hear is the breath of the earth. “

Mr Hames said Germany’s plan was deeper than the Soviet Union’s, but they did not even reach the expected 10km depth. “The places we drill are much hotter than the Russians’. Obviously, it’s much harder to go any further,” he said. “

The race to the mantle seems to be an upgrade to the famous novel Journey to the Heart of the Earth, and it’s hard to get rid of it. Although scientists don’t expect to find a cave with dinosaurs, they do describe the deep drilling program as an “adventure.” “We thought it was an expedition because it really took some time in the preparation and execution process, and you really had to go into no man’s land, where no one had ever been, which seemed really unusual today. Hames said, “You’ll always find something out there that surprises you, especially when you’re deep in the earth’s crust.”

When we talk about deep drilling programs on the German mainland or cora ultra-deep drilling, one thing to understand is that the theory behind these plans is 30 to 40 years old when drilling began.

The point of these missions is that they are like planetary exploration, they are purely scientific, and you never know what you’re going to find. For the first time, we saw a complete oceanic crust at Hole 1256, a hole drilled by the Deep Sea Drilling Project (DSDP) and the Marine Drilling Project (ODP). No one has been there before. It’s really exciting, there’s always a surprise.

Today, the M2M-MoHole to Mantle program is one of the most important components of the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP). Like the original Moho plan, scientists plan to drill holes in the seabed, which is only 6 kilometers deep in the earth’s crust. The ultra-deep drilling project, which will cost $1 billion, aims to acquire the mantle rock in situ for the first time in human history. Damon Teague, who is also involved in the project, said: “It’s going to be a great task and it’s going to require a huge commitment from Japan. “

The Chiky? is the world’s largest deep-sea drilling vessel built in Japan, built about 20 years ago with a displacement of 59,500 tons. Using the Global Positioning System (GPS) system and six adjustable computer-controlled aircraft, The Earth could change the position of the hull by only 50 cm.

“Our idea is that the ship will take the torch and continue with the Moho program, which was launched 50 years ago,” said Sean Tozko of the Japan Marine Research and Development Agency.

The main difficulty now is how to select drilling sites, with three candidate sites in the Costa Rican sea, the Mexican Baja Sea and Hawaii. Each drilling site requires compromise between ocean depth, distance from the drilling site, and the need to establish a base on shore. “Infrastructure can be built, but it takes time and money,” Tozko added.

Mr Hames said ultra-deep drilling could ultimately come down to a cost problem: “These expeditions are very expensive and therefore difficult to repeat.” They could cost hundreds of millions of euros, with only a small portion going to earth science, the rest on technology development and, of course, maintaining operations. We need inspiring politicians to preach the value of these expeditions. “

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