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Drill, Comrade, Drill.
May 8, 2014 9:30 AM   Subscribe

There is a place in Russia called the Kola Penninsula that is just a jump away from both Norway and Finland. At this remote locale, people can visit a crumbling cinder block building in the middle of nowhere that is surround by debris. Amongst this debris is a nondescript metal cap secured with a dozen rusting bolts. Beneath this cap is the deepest hole in the world.

The Kola Superdeep Borehole was a Russian project started in 1970 to drill as deep a hole as possible into the Earth's crust. By the time they stopped the project in 1994, they had drilled 7.5 miles straight down. Here is the full article from Atlas Obscura. And though they did find lots of interesting stuff down there, they did not in fact discover the screams of tormented souls.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI (50 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
The US called theirs Project Mohole? As opposed to Lesshole?
posted by jontyjago at 9:39 AM on May 8 [1 favorite]


"Project Mohole" probably refers to the Moho. It's still a silly name, though.
posted by Johnny Assay at 9:42 AM on May 8


Better than Mohel.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:47 AM on May 8 [6 favorites]


Caption/alt text on Slate for the picture of debris around the rusty metal cap: "hole." Indeed.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:47 AM on May 8 [1 favorite]


What happened to the building?
posted by b1tr0t at 9:56 AM on May 8


"Project Mohole" probably refers to the Moho. It's still a silly name, though.

Yes. I remember this was a big deal at the time. I read all about it in Scholastic Illustrated. Project Mohole. After the Mohorovičić discontinuity.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:58 AM on May 8 [2 favorites]


I can't believe that is really the top of the hole. It looks tiny. Oil and gas wells that go down 20,000 to 30,000 feet deep are 48" wide at the surface. They get progressively smaller as they go down.
posted by Bee'sWing at 9:58 AM on May 8


Related/recommended: Atlas Obscura's ESSENTIAL GUIDE: Ruins of Super Science.
posted by mykescipark at 9:59 AM on May 8 [7 favorites]


This is probably a dumb question. But if it's so hot down there, then can somebody explain to me why isn't it possible to pump water down such a hole so that it can be converted to steam and drive a turbine? I know it's a long way down, and there would be lots of problems with materials and such, but the potential return on investment seems like it would be pretty large.
posted by demonic winged headgear at 10:01 AM on May 8


That's a hole other level of deepness.
posted by vitabellosi at 10:03 AM on May 8


But if it's so hot down there, then can somebody explain to me why isn't it possible to pump water down such a hole so that it can be converted to steam and drive a turbine?

It is possible: 10 Gigawatts of installed power, of which 3GW is in the US.
posted by ambrosen at 10:05 AM on May 8 [4 favorites]


OK, sure. I was under the impression that geothermal power mostly utilized more or less naturally-occurring sources. I guess it is just not cost effective to drill the hole in areas that aren't naturally right for it. I hadn't realized that EGS existed.
posted by demonic winged headgear at 10:12 AM on May 8


Christ, what an asshole!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:19 AM on May 8 [5 favorites]


But if it's so hot down there, then can somebody explain to me why isn't it possible to pump water down such a hole so that it can be converted to steam and drive a turbine?

There are two problems. The first is that over most of the continent, the thermal gradient is only 25 degrees C per kilometer. So you have to drill very deep very expensive holes to get hot enough temperatures. There are very limited areas, like the Geysers in California or Yellowstone, where heat is much closer to the surface.

Second, rock is a relatively poor conductor of heat. Crudely, you could say that heat only travels about 10 feet per year through rock. So if you just drilled a hole in the ground and pumped water down there, the rock would cool off and you would get no more heat after a few days or so. You would have to employ fracking techniques to increase the surface area for available heat, but that is hard to do at extreme depths.
posted by JackFlash at 10:21 AM on May 8 [14 favorites]


Thanks for posting this, very interesting.
posted by selton at 10:33 AM on May 8


"...and we never did strike coke."
posted by Wolfdog at 10:59 AM on May 8


There’s a hole in the world. Feels like we ought to have known.
posted by yoink at 11:04 AM on May 8 [3 favorites]


Always relevant: XKCD's depth chart (shows both the Kola and the Tiber well, one of the deepest oil wells in the world).

This is one of the greatest, craziest engineering achievements ever done. What's mind boggling is the amount of time it took them and the multiple boreholes due to drilling problems; they began in 1970 and reached maximum depth in 1989, then suspended drilling in 1994 (one has to imagine the consequences of the end of the Cold War had something to do with that, not just the technology). The pressure gradient they faced with the equipment they had, the gas they ran into...I would not be surprised if some deaths occurred that weren't publicized. Not to mention waiting for technology to catch up with what they were doing as they worked.....below the earth's surface, drill pipe starts to turn into spaghetti from the heat and pressure. (You can use that property to actually turn wells horizontal, as the pipe bends naturally.) As a result of that and the technology at the time, the borehole is actually not a straight vertical hole; it deviated ~840 m horizontally to the north over a certain distance.

The casing at the top was only 28 inches; it telescoped down to 9.6 inches. I saw the casing for the Tiber well, you could fucking sit in it, and that's what I was expecting before I saw the picture. It is so tiny! The pressure problems the Russians must have had just blows my mind.

And they were coring!

Anyone interested in reading more might like the book about it: The Superdeep Well of the Kola Penisula, edited by one of the principal Russian scientists.

There's also a great article by the same investigator (Kozlovsky) which talks some borehole characteristics, pressure, and other interesting geo/chemical/eng facts, here in pdf.
posted by barchan at 11:15 AM on May 8 [17 favorites]


Did they measure the depth with fishing line?
posted by MtDewd at 11:19 AM on May 8 [3 favorites]


Pretty sure the original project name was "Project Mole Men".
posted by GuyZero at 11:24 AM on May 8


Doesn't it seem unlikely that vertical stretches of such an extensive bore haven't collapsed after being neglected for so long?

Also, not to spoil Slate's linkbaity fun, but Wikipedia says this Exxon commercial research project is now the world's deepest borehole.
posted by aught at 11:30 AM on May 8


There are two ways to measure the depth of a well. True vertical depth and measured depth. Measured depth is just the length of the hole. But wells don't always go straight down. I'm guessing those Exxon wells may go a ways horizontally as well as vertically.

And unless the borehole was lined with steel and cement (which it probably was, at least in the shallower sections) it would probably have collapsed.
posted by Bee'sWing at 11:42 AM on May 8


Aught: they cement the sides. Also the exxon wells aren't strictly vertical - the wells are extended reach wells, which means they reach out from a main wellbore, often quite horizontally using a technique known as directional drilling. There's a big difference between measured depth and TVD (total vertical depth)....I always suspect certain kinds of press releases for that reason. Not to say they don't have world records, but the fact they use certain phrases and not others makes me lift an eyebrow. This is a wellbore profile for one of those wells, taken from this article.
posted by barchan at 11:43 AM on May 8


The Siberia sounds from hell on Art Bell, sensitive people might want to turn off their raidios.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:51 AM on May 8


CBrachyrhynchos:
The Siberia sounds from hell on Art Bell , sensitive people might want to turn off their raidios.
I think I included that in my last CD Swap. Sounds way creepier than a busy bar on a Friday night but still doesn't prove anything.
posted by charred husk at 11:54 AM on May 8


Mr. President, we cannot allow a mineshaft gap!
posted by ocschwar at 11:54 AM on May 8 [3 favorites]


Pretty sure the original project name was "Project Mole Men".

"I am always beneath you, but nothing is beneath me!"
posted by The Bellman at 12:04 PM on May 8


In the borehole pressure mines 100km beneath Planetsurface, at the Mohorovicic Discontinuity where crust gives way to mantle, temperatures often reach levels well in excess of 1000 degrees Celsius. Exploitation of Planet's resources under such brutal conditions has required quantum advances in robotic and teleoperational technology.

Morgan Industries, Ltd.
"Annual Report"

posted by curious nu at 12:07 PM on May 8 [6 favorites]


Also the exxon wells aren't strictly vertical

Thanks, the Wikipedia article wasn't clear on that; since they gave a separate figure for horizontal reach, I thought the depth was a vertical measure, silly me.
posted by aught at 12:10 PM on May 8


This hole is mine. It was made for me.
posted by Theta States at 12:30 PM on May 8 [5 favorites]


I think I included that in my last CD Swap. Sounds way creepier than a busy bar on a Friday night but still doesn't prove anything.

I thought the folklore leading up to it was most interesting, and had all the high points. The "I got this from a relative who knew a reporter who got his hands on a story that his editors wouldn't touch" origin story. And the warning: "This material is so disturbing that he was haunted by it to the end of his days. You might want to advise sensitive people to turn their radio off while this plays."
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:45 PM on May 8


I thought the depth was a vertical measure, silly me. Ha, those press releases which the article sourced are written for investors. Some investors know a thing or two...and some don't.

It used to be more clear, but as technology progressed they had to create different terms, and they all ended up using depth due to precedence and difficulty coming up with other terminology. To simplify it greatly, you can think of measured depth as the amount of pipe used and how far they drilled, which is very useful information. Since pipe does tend to stretch and bend as you drill deeper and deviate as the Kola well did, it starts to get even trickier. "Length" doesn't quite cut it, because wellbores deviate in x-y-z space. If you look at that pdf I mentioned for the Kola well, you can see on the 4th page the horizonal profile as if you were looking straight down on it (like from an airplane) and you can see the well actually makes a big "c" and then starts to loop back on itself, while also moving vertically. There's no simple way to describe that while conveying the amount of pipe and thus time/money drilling etc. etc., so I'm guessing "depth" was kept to be somewhat consistent.

That's probably more than you wanted to know.
posted by barchan at 12:50 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]


The US called theirs Project Mohole

Moholes, though cosmological rather than geological, and mohole theory figure prominently in De Lilo's Ratner's Star.
posted by Dr Dracator at 1:12 PM on May 8


If someone was able to drill all the way through the crust, and have magma shoot up turning the hole into a volcano...could you say they made a mountain out of a Mohole?
posted by fings at 1:17 PM on May 8 [4 favorites]


I believe the upcoming Cosmos episode is going to discuss the earth's core a bit. I look forward to Tyson telling me all about how little we know about the depths of the earth it in his resonant voice, head cocked, through half-closed eyelids, as is his style.
posted by emjaybee at 1:31 PM on May 8


There are a lot of biggest/best/deepest/first whatevers that don't get me jazzed in the least. This, however, really makes me resonate with excitement.
We do some really cool shit as humans, even when we only get 1/527th of the way there.
posted by staccato signals of constant information at 1:35 PM on May 8


Moholes, though cosmological rather than geological, and mohole theory figure prominently in De Lilo's Ratner's Star.

Also Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars series.

And holes that deep just give me the NOPE NOPE NOPE GET ME OUT OF HERE reaction.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:40 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]


In the borehole pressure mines 100km beneath Planetsurface, at the Mohorovicic Discontinuity where crust gives way to mantle, temperatures often reach levels well in excess of 1000 degrees Celsius.

You have robbed me of the SMAC reference I was going to make. Pistols at dawn.
posted by PMdixon at 2:46 PM on May 8


What happened to the building?

IT FELL DOWN
posted by Sebmojo at 3:21 PM on May 8 [2 favorites]


Wait so if it's measured depth that can be deceptive how else do they do it? Pressure?
posted by Carillon at 3:34 PM on May 8


Wire-line logging and math! Yay math!

(They put a variety of instruments on a cable & use the cable itself in a process called measurement while drilling (MWD.) )

....It's not really deceptive if you understand the technology.
posted by barchan at 3:44 PM on May 8


Until they find a rare Lenin 5 Kopeck marked with a слово on it, count me unconvinced.
posted by whatgorilla at 3:49 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]


ou can visit the now-abandoned site, but unfortunately you won't be able to peer into the fathomless abyss — there's a hefty metal cap covering the hole.

Do you want someone with a set of ratchets to take that cap off?

Because that's how you get someone with a set of ratchets that takes that cap off.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:11 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]


Even so, the Weekly World News ran the story in 1992, this time setting it in Alaska and claiming thirteen oil rig workers were killed when the Devil came roaring up out of the ground.
You gotta keep the devil way down in the hole
posted by homunculus at 10:26 PM on May 8 [2 favorites]


There are very limited areas … Yellowstone, where heat is much closer to the surface.

Cooling down Yellowdtone might not be a bad plan. Two birds, one stone. Green energy & save the continent.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:07 PM on May 8


Cooling down Yellowdtone might not be a bad plan. Two birds, one stone. Green energy & save the continent.

Or not. Some research suggests that supervolcanoes are triggered by a phase transition which makes cooling magma less dense under pressure.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 5:03 AM on May 9


Do you want someone with a set of ratchets to take that cap off?

Because that's how you get someone with a set of ratchets that takes that cap off.


Come on Roland, it's rural Russia, where are you going to find somebody to do something shady and possibly a little dangerous for money?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:35 AM on May 9 [2 favorites]


For money? I'd be disappointed in my Russian rural comrades if we couldn't find someone to do it for the lulz.
posted by Mitheral at 1:16 AM on May 10 [2 favorites]


Or not. Some research suggests that supervolcanoes are triggered by a phase transition which makes cooling magma less dense under pressure.

Well, that would be an embarrassing mistake.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:44 AM on May 10


Luckily, no one would be left to realize it.
posted by Chrysostom at 2:07 PM on May 12


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