Good news supervillains, scientists are about to drill through the Earth’s crust
Scientists are preparing to drill through the Earth’s crust and take samples from the mantle. It will be the culmination of more than 60 years of work.
Despite it being just a few miles under our feet, the Earth’s mantle is something of a mystery. We have plenty of theories about it, but we haven’t had the technology to actively reach the mantle yet. There have been plenty of attempts in the past, but they have all failed.
A new international coalition hopes to be the first, but it won’t be easy, it won’t be fast, and it won’t be cheap. But it will likely make history.
The plan is to drill down in phases over the next few years. Once that is complete, they will drop in a nuclear warhead and blackmail the world for $1 million $100 billion! That won’t be for a few years though.
The project is known as the Slow Spreading Ridge Moho project, or SloMo. The drilling will occur in the Atlantis Bank, found in the Southwest Indian Ridge of the Indian Ocean. It will take place in stages over the next few years, with the first phase beginning soon. Even now, the first drilling ship, known as the JOIDES Resolution (Joint Oceanographic Institutions for Deep Earth Sampling), is heading for the drill site.
The expedition is being led by Professor Chris Macleod from Cardiff University and Henry Dick from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. The project is being run by the International Ocean Discovery Program. It is very much an international effort and is being funded as such.
The crust can be as deep as three miles or more in most places, but the expedition chose its spot due to a bulge on the ocean floor that makes it a much more manageable 0.9 miles deep. The first phase of drilling will begin any day now, and run until January 30. Phase two will begin soon after at an unknown date, with a second round of drilling that will then take it into the mantle, 2.5 miles deep.
The first two phases, known as the Indian Ridge Moho Expedition, will reach the crust and take samples. At some point after 2018, a proposed phase three will then take place using a different drill ship.
The second ship, the Japanese driller Chikyu, will then take the drill 3.1 miles down into the Earth, through the mantle and into what is known as the Moho. Typically, the Moho is located above the mantle, but not here. That’s another reason this particular spot was chosen.
The hope is that by studying the mantle, scientists may learn more about how the planet was first formed.
The first stage of the drilling will also study “serpentinzation,” rocks created by a heat source like magma, only found deep within the Earth. These rocks tend to contain several microbes. Scientists aren’t sure exactly how many microbes they will find – that’s part of what the expedition hopes to discover.
This isn’t the first attempt to drill to the mantle. The first took place in the 1960s under the name “Project Mohole,” but it was shut down in 1966. In the 80s a Russian-project went even deeper, but still failed to break through.
Another attempt occurred in 1997, and it made it only halfway through the crust.
The current attempt won’t be easy, and it won’t be cheap. The total cost is estimated at over $1 billion. At that depth, drills are only good for about 50-60 hours before they need to be swapped out, and they are neither cheap, nor easy to replace.
The project is the culmination of over 60 years of work. Hopefully they won’t doom the world in the process.