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Billion dollar project plans to drill into Earth’s mantle

A team of scientists are planning an ambitious project where they hope to drill into the earths crust in one of three points in the pacific ocean. Their goal is to reach the mantle, the first layer of Earth's molten innards. With their best estimates, they may be successful by as early as 2020. 

A team of international scientists are planning a drilling project that they are calling the most "challenging endeavor in the history of Earth science". The project involves drilling through the Earth's crust and reaching the mantle. The team believes this could be achieved as early as 2020, but it won't be easy, and the price tag will go for at least USD 1 billion.

Location of the mantle in Earth's innards


The drilling would occur in one of three places, in the deepest parts of the pacific ocean, along mid-ocean ridge lines which form rather quickly, and thus leave the crust relatively thin. Good estimates suggest the 30 cm diameter hole would have to be drilled through roughly 6 km of hard bedrock, before reaching the mantle. Though previous attempts at drilling, such as Russia's Kola Superdeep Borehole, have reached as deep as 12 km, the 6 km bore will still be a great challenge as it is deep below the ocean.


Kola Superdeep Borehole


Damon Teagle, at the University of Southampton put it's in terms that are more relatable: "It will be the equivalent of dangling a steel string the width of a human hair in the deep end of a swimming pool and inserting it into a thimble 1/10 mm wide on the bottom, and then drilling a few meters into the foundations" However, the truth is further complicated by the lifespan of modern drill bits; only 50-60 meters. Unless technology improves, it would mean potentially doing that pool balancing act for several years.

This project is not the first attempt by humans at reaching the mantle; a short-lived American project in the 1960's and the previously mentioned Kola borehole both aimed to pierce the crust. The scientific implications are what drive this third attempt: If successful, the project will provide the first fresh samples of magma ever obtained from the core, thus giving researchers invaluable data on how our planet was formed, and how it continues to evolve.

David F.
A grad student in experimental physics, David is fascinated by science, space and technology. When not buried in lecture books, he enjoys movies, gaming and mountainbiking

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