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The Deepest Hole in the Earth - Kola Superbole Hole

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I write about things I find interesting, and although I am not an expert, I have fun learning as I research. I hope you like the results!

Born to Explore

From the deepest oceans to the furthest reaches of space, man has an insatiable curiosity to see what is there.

From the deepest oceans to the furthest reaches of space, man has an insatiable curiosity to see what is there.

Born To Explore

Man is a great explorer by our very nature, always curious and seeking beyond what is already known.

This applies to everything from scientific research, to inter-stellar travel and ocean exploration.

There is, however, a place right beneath our feet that remains virtually unknown.

What exactly lies deep underground and why is it relatively unexplored?

The Deepest Mines

Mining has been taking place for thousands of years as we look to exploit the Earth’s resources for our gain. Coal, precious metals, oil, gas and other resources are taken and turned to good use for humanity's benefit and comfort of life.

AngloGold Ashanti's Mponeng gold mine, just to the South-West of Johannesburg in South Africa, is the world’s deepest mine and reaches to a depth of just over four kilometres. Indeed, eight out of the ten deepest mines in the world are in South Africa, with the other two located in Canada.

When you consider the radius of the Earth is 6,371km, these mines are barely scratching the surface at approximately 0.062% of the distance to the centre of the planet.

There is, however, a place in Russia which is three times that distance. In terms of percentage, it is still a minuscule depth at 0.189% of the Earth’s radius, but at twelve kilometres it's three times deeper than the deepest mine and is as far as man has ever journeyed towards the centre of the Earth.

Earth's Resources

Some of the resources we take from mines around the world are precious gemstones.

Some of the resources we take from mines around the world are precious gemstones.

The Race For The Mantle

Known as the Kola Superdeep Borehole, it is located on the Kola Peninsula in North-West Russia. The peninsula is inside the Arctic Circle and borders both Finland and Norway, with the nearest major Russian city being Murmansk.

The concept was initiated as part of the Cold War battle between the Soviet Union and the USA as they locked horns and tried to out-do each other in all manner of political and scientific ways, most notably the space race which ended in 1969 with the USA landing a man on the moon.

Both nations set out with the intention of drilling below the Earth’s crust into the area between the crust and the mantle, known as the Mohorovic Discontinuity.

The crust is estimated to be somewhere between 35 and 50 km in thickness. Plans were developed in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, with the resulting American 'Project Mohole' off the Pacific Coast of Mexico, and the Russians with their Kola Superdeep Borehole.

This time the Russians came out clear victors, with the American project running out of funding in 1966, just five years after drilling began.

Composition of the Earth

A cutaway diagram of the inner composition of the Earth

A cutaway diagram of the inner composition of the Earth

The Kola Peninsula

Russia's Kola Peninsula: Norway lies to the North-West, and to the South-West is Finland

Russia's Kola Peninsula: Norway lies to the North-West, and to the South-West is Finland

What Was Learned From This Project?

The actual drilling began on the nine inch wide Kola borehole on May 24th, 1970 and ceased 24 years later due to reaching unexpectedly high temperatures of 180°C (356°F) that made the rocks behave more like plastic than rock.

This combination of rock behaviour and high temperature made further drilling unfeasible and work ceased. The site is now abandoned and run-down.

So what was learned from the lifespan of this ambitious Soviet project?

  • Great breakthroughs in drilling processes which have enabled us to dig deeper than ever before to reach less accessible oil wells both on land and in the sea.
  • The transition between granite and basalt that scientists expected to find somewhere between three to six kilometres beneath the surface failed to materialise. This led to the realisation that previous predictions were wrong and the seismological studies they had based their predictions on were actually showing a change in heat and pressure rather than a change of rock type.
  • Possibly the most surprising find was water right down to the 12km mark. Scientists had not expected to find water at this depth and believe that hydrogen and oxygen atoms have squeezed out of the rocks due to the intense pressure exerted on them, to fill the cracks. The impermeable nature of the rocky ceiling above would prevent the moisture from escaping.
  • The biggest rival to the discovery of water at those depths is undoubtedly the discovery of fossils of different species of micro-organisms, more commonly known as plankton.

The Borehole's Cover

The borehole is firmly closed off with this metal cover. On it is written in white lettering, the numbers 12,226, the number of metres to which the holes sinks.

The borehole is firmly closed off with this metal cover. On it is written in white lettering, the numbers 12,226, the number of metres to which the holes sinks.

The Site of the Kola Superbole Hole

the-deepest-hole-in-the-earth

The 'Well to Hell' Hoax

Of course, as with many other things that test mankind's ingenuity and skill, there are detractors and people who like to stir up controversy. The Kola drilling project was no different, and in 1989, a US religion based TV programme claimed that they had drilled so far into the Earth that they had reached right into the depths of Hell itself.

There are so many details that are wrong that it is amazing the legend still persists today. They claimed that the well was 14.4 kilometres deep, had bored into a cavity and temperatures reached 1,000 degrees Celsius. Supposedly intrigued by this, the Russian team lowered heat sensitive (presumably 'very' heat sensitive) recording equipment down the hole to listen and record, and heard the sound of tormented screams from within.

Clearly, this was all completely random claims and outright untruths thrown together to alarm people and reinforce the idea of Hell being somewhere people needed saving from. None of the above details were true, including the location. They were so far off they labelled it as being in Siberia - a mere 5,000 miles or so out of the way.

This hoax contained more falsehoods than a political party manifesto

This hoax contained more falsehoods than a political party manifesto

The Idea Hasn't Died With Kola

Many of the core samples taken during the working lifetime of the drilling operation at Kola are stored ten kilometres to the South of the site, in a town called Zapolyarny. Studies continue on the Kola project’s data and maybe more discoveries will eventually come from the analyzation of this data, we wait and see.

The actual depth reached by the Kola drilling project has been surpassed by a few metres by oil drilling companies in Russia and the Middle East, but this drilling has been undertaken with the sole purpose of obtaining oil and gas.

In the meantime, it seems the ambition to reach the Earth’s mantle has not been forgotten or discarded. There are plans afoot to try again, this time in a part of the Indian Ocean known as Atlantis Bank which you can read about here.

For more detailed information on the Kola Superdeep Borehole and for more pictures of the site, past and present, click here.

Video of the Main Details of Kola Superdeep Borehole

The Deepest Mines

Mining has been taking place for thousands of years as we look to exploit the Earth’s resources for our gain. Coal, precious metals, oil, gas and other resources are taken and turned to good use for humanity's benefit and comfort of life.

AngloGold Ashanti's Mponeng gold mine, just to the South-West of Johannesburg in South Africa, is the world’s deepest mine and reaches to a depth of just over four kilometres. Indeed, eight out of the ten deepest mines in the world are in South Africa, with the other two located in Canada.

When you consider the radius of the Earth is 6,371km, these mines are barely scratching the surface at approximately 0.062% of the distance to the centre of the planet. There is, however, a place in Russia which is three times that distance. In terms of percentage, it is still a minuscule depth at 0.189% of the Earth’s radius, but at twelve kilometres it's three times deeper than the deepest mine and is as far as man has ever journeyed towards the centre of the Earth.

© 2019 Ian

Comments

Ian (author) from Durham on April 19, 2019:

Thank you for the feedback Judith, much appreciated!

Judith Hayes from Maine and Florida on April 19, 2019:

Very interesting article and good graphics. Geology is a hobby I enjoy.