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Journey to the Center of the Earth?
April 7, 2005 9:24 PM   Subscribe

Hole Drilled to Bottom of Earth's Crust, Breakthrough to Mantle Looms --Should we be doing this? What will happen? The Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) seeks the elusive "Moho," a boundary formally known as the Mohorovicic discontinuity. It marks the division between Earth's brittle outer crust and the hotter, softer mantle. (the creamy nougat center?)
posted by amberglow (50 comments total)

 
how many licks does it take to get to the center of a...?

oh never mind.
posted by moonbird at 9:36 PM on April 7, 2005


there was a theory floating about a year or so ago about super-hot molten blob of metal that would melt its way to the center
posted by reflection at 9:39 PM on April 7, 2005


and i thought this had already been done...
posted by cloeburner at 9:40 PM on April 7, 2005


According to scientific "theory" quarks or somesuch shoot through our planet all the time.

I'll start worrying when I hear Cantonese from that hole my dog has been digging for two years in the back yard.
posted by snsranch at 9:49 PM on April 7, 2005


moonbird: I think this is what you're looking for.
posted by 40 Watt at 9:50 PM on April 7, 2005


I always wondered why the giant holes that are dug on Mars by the colonists in Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy are called "moholes". Now I know, and knowing is half the battle.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:22 PM on April 7, 2005


This is how Satan gets freed from hell. Thanks, Science!
posted by Hildago at 10:44 PM on April 7, 2005


Why is it really necessary to do this? I'm sure there are more productive things we could be doing or spending money on..
posted by bluehermit at 10:44 PM on April 7, 2005


It's not like this "web" thing or the whole "automobile" business were really necessary either ... and really, shouldn't a certain someone have been off hunting or gathering instead of "discovering fire"? sheesh ...
posted by hattifattener at 10:56 PM on April 7, 2005


Geologists have been able to study the upper mantle/lower crust for a long time now, ever since we figured out what those crazy ophiolites were we found in a few locations around the world.

It should also be noted that the upper mantle is still solid rock. There's no magma. There's no lava down there either. Just really hot igneous rocks.

It's interesting to just be able to drill down that far, but I'm not waiting for anything life altering to come out of that hole.

On Preview:
Why is it really necessary to do this? I'm sure there are more productive things we could be doing or spending money on..

Because we can do it. This is the type of thing that science should be doing. Igneous petrologists have never been able to directly sample in situ mantle rock before. If we kept saying to ourselves that we could be spending our money in better ways we'd never get to do these things. And then we'd be setting limits on the scientific community.
posted by tempest2i at 10:59 PM on April 7, 2005


Why is it really necessary to do this? I'm sure there are more productive things we could be doing or spending money on.
Oh, come on. You're not the least bit curious to see what our planet is made up out of?!

Also, if you want practical applications: concievably, a better model of the composition of the earth could increase the accuracy with which he can detect/measure/predict/model earthquakes, volcanos, tsunamis, and the like.
posted by kickingtheground at 11:00 PM on April 7, 2005


Caution: Planet nougat made in factory that also handles nuts.
posted by OneOliveShort at 11:18 PM on April 7, 2005


Oh, come on. You're not the least bit curious to see what our planet is made up out of?!

haha not really, well not in the case of drilling so deep, but that's just me
posted by bluehermit at 11:26 PM on April 7, 2005


Why is it really necessary to do this? I'm sure there are more productive things we could be doing or spending money on.

As far as government/privately funded mad science goes... they could be doing a whole lot worse.
posted by JGreyNemo at 11:26 PM on April 7, 2005


Why is it really necessary to do this? I'm sure there are more productive things we could be doing or spending money on..

Yeah, fuck that whole science stuff...
posted by c13 at 11:52 PM on April 7, 2005


I just learned tonight that geothermal is bringing in ~20x the production of solar for California's electricity generation needs (5% vs 0.3%). This is indeed one very hot rock we're living on...
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 12:02 AM on April 8, 2005


Could this be used for geothermal power generation? Or at least help in better development of it?
posted by PenDevil at 12:07 AM on April 8, 2005


c13:Yeah, fuck that whole science stuff...

What an intelligent strawman answer.
posted by Stauf at 12:35 AM on April 8, 2005


Well, I think it matches up the question pretty well.
I'm not making up a strawman here, you can ask this same question about any basic science. More generally, if people decide to spend 1.5 billion dollars on something, they probably have pretty good reasons, even if you can't think of any.
posted by c13 at 12:44 AM on April 8, 2005


you can ask this same question about any basic science

This is true. But surely some pursuits are more worthwhile than others? In any case, I find this interesting simply because I'm the curious type who likes to think about this kind of stuff, so I don't really have a problem with it. I just hate to see an argument that may be asking a valid (and sincere) question get misrepresented as some kind of anti-science/anti-intellectual thing.
posted by Stauf at 1:01 AM on April 8, 2005


I HATE ARGUMENTS!!! Stauf, c13, kiss and make up.

TwelveTwo demands it.
posted by TwelveTwo at 1:07 AM on April 8, 2005


This argument is exactly anti-intellectual. Nothing but.
I'm sure there are more productive things we could be doing or spending money on. Come on, what else is there? He's basing the worth of doing something on how productive that thing is, that is, what he can gain from it materially. Spending money just to gain knowledge is obviously not productive.

On preview: c13 does not kiss strangers. Well, maybe only cute ones...
posted by c13 at 1:18 AM on April 8, 2005


are you suggesting that knowledge is not a product worth spending on?


I think it's awesome. Anyway, I'm sure they had this kind of argument when they wanted to send a guy to the moooon. Some said, wtf, others dude! And basically it's just to advance the knowledge of natural science and domain of humankind.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 1:46 AM on April 8, 2005


No. I'm saying exactly the opposite, its one of the very few things that are actually worth spending the money on.
posted by c13 at 1:50 AM on April 8, 2005


I see a lot of talking, and not enough kissing.
I only rented this camera for the day.
posted by TwelveTwo at 3:27 AM on April 8, 2005


the elusive "Moho," a boundary formally known as the Mohorovicic discontinuity. It marks the division between Earth's brittle outer crust and the hotter, softer mantle.

Is it really that hard to find? Really? Are they searching with a Dremel?
posted by saysthis at 4:44 AM on April 8, 2005


We should be spending this money on SDI and B2 bombers dammit!
Unless maybe the oil or defense companies are profiting from this somehow or they're using Halliburton drilling rigs or something, then it's fine. [/snark]
posted by nofundy at 4:54 AM on April 8, 2005


Astronomy seems like the perfect example here; it is the oldest of the sciences, and the purest, in the sense that it is knowledge for the sake of knowledge.

But many, many good things have come out of space exploration. Teflon, pc's, even the beginnings of the internet... all byproducts of astronomy.

For an idea of how much stuff, try this.

In short, this is worth doing, in part for the reasons given by tempest2i above; it's something we know less about than we'd like to, but there are also potential practical applications that are as yet unforseen.
posted by exlotuseater at 5:02 AM on April 8, 2005


"why the giant holes that are dug on Mars by the colonists in Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy are called "moholes".

Named after Project Mohole, an earlier attempt, 1958-1966, that fell over due to funding problems and monumental administrative screw-up. See here and Greenberg, D.S. 1964. Mohole: The project that went awry. Science 143:115-119.
posted by raygirvan at 5:34 AM on April 8, 2005


Good Lord. Have these people not read The Day The Earth Screamed (Arthur Conan Doyle's Professor Challenger story, not the avant-garde music piece)?

As I'm sure you'll recall, in the story the good professor attempts a similar dig, only to discover that the earth is a living creature -- not in the Gaia-hypotheis sense but alive like a kitten or a giant hissing cockroach or your Uncle Dwight -- which responds to being so pricked by, well, screaming.
posted by herostratus at 5:45 AM on April 8, 2005


Hey exlotuseater, I thought math was the oldest science.

Oh, you meant natural science. I get it now.
posted by oddman at 5:45 AM on April 8, 2005


oddman:
I have always considered math and science to be two completely seperate and distinct fields. However, questioning this, I found this thread, which shows me that there is some debate about that.

I'm still trying to decide where I stand.
posted by exlotuseater at 6:22 AM on April 8, 2005


Please NOTE that I think ID is garbage.
posted by exlotuseater at 6:23 AM on April 8, 2005


It would be kinda funny if when they pierced the earth that it flew around like a deflating balloon spewing earth-jizz all over the solar system.
posted by Eekacat at 6:37 AM on April 8, 2005


All of this has already happened on Doctor Who.
posted by MadeByMark at 6:53 AM on April 8, 2005


MetaFilter: Some said wtf, others said dude!
posted by naomi at 7:03 AM on April 8, 2005


MetaFilter: spewing earth-jizz all over the solar system.
posted by c13 at 7:36 AM on April 8, 2005


C13: That "fuck science" was bullshit. Just like the argument that any time people want to spend a lot of money on something, they have "a pretty good reason for it." A pretty good reason is not a valid reason (see: Missile Defense/Star Wars), and the thought that since we don't have unlimited funds with which to pursue scientific endeavors pretty much means that by funding this some other projects won't get funded. I can think of many, many things that would do more good for the world with the money than just exploring the moho (even if it does eventually teach us to make the ultimate mojito).
I am, ultimately, in favor of this project. But the reductive and hostile answers you gave are more likely to encourage anti-intellectualism than just asking if we could be doing something better with the cash.
posted by klangklangston at 8:38 AM on April 8, 2005


c13 writes " This argument is exactly anti-intellectual. Nothing but."
I actually find your argument, but not your point, to be anti-intellectual. Someone asked a question about purpose, and your response was STFU. You say that there must be a good one, but you don't provide one, or even take a crack at providing one. I agree that knowledge is usually a good thing, but I also think that, yes Virginia, there should be limits on our scientific community. Any scientist knows that we live in a world of finite resources, and we can and should make determinations about what is most important for us to pursue.
posted by OmieWise at 8:58 AM on April 8, 2005


Oh please, last thing I'm trying to do is to shut someone up.
I you think that determining if our ideas about how Earth is made up is not worth spending money on, I guess I really can't argure with you. There is always someone who can think of better things to spend money on. Just like, for example, going to the Moon or Mars. Yes, its easier and cheaper to send robots, but that's not really the point. Or building huge radiotelescopes or particle accelerators. We won't get much other than knowledge out of them, so we can always spend the money on making a better TV or finding the cure for hair loss.
OmieWise says: Any scientist knows that we live in a world of finite resources, and we can and should make determinations about what is most important for us to pursue.
Maybe, but in the last 2 years we've spent 180 billion on a little escapade in Middle East. And how many more billion were spent on buying useless shit, gambling, hookers, etc, by private individuals? Do you have these things in mind?
Scientific projects get funded according to their merit as determined by a peer group. I'm not on a review panel, so I cannot give you the exact reason why this one got funded, other than what I've already said. But apparently there is one.
posted by c13 at 9:17 AM on April 8, 2005


Someone asked a question about purpose, and your response was STFU.

Why is it really necessary to do this? I'm sure there are more productive things we could be doing or spending money on.

Read the last part. It really wasn't a question, was it?
posted by c13 at 9:21 AM on April 8, 2005


OmieWise: Any scientist knows that we live in a world of finite resources, and we can and should make determinations about what is most important for us to pursue.

Certainly, and scientists compete for funding based against other "important research". Given that one of the co-sponsors of this is the Japanese government, it seems possible that there might be a payoff somewhere down the road in terms of better understanding of earthquakes and volcanoes.

But ok, lets put this in perspective here. Lots of people saw the $1.5 billion, but missed the "10-year" at the start of the sentence. Fermilab gets about $285 million a year in comparison.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:11 AM on April 8, 2005


Yes, but can you catch and eat snakes in this new hole?
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:44 AM on April 8, 2005


C13: Ouch, those straw men hurt when you beat them. If unmanned space flight can gather information just as well, only cheaper with less risk, why not do that and spend the rest of the money on running more experiments? It's not all hair loss, y'know. (Your first straw man).
And I don't think that you're going to find a lot of people here saying that invading countries is a better use of public money than, say, curing AIDS or diptheria (your second straw man).
posted by klangklangston at 12:24 PM on April 8, 2005


I really cannot answer your first question. Its one of the things that are either obvious or a complete nonsense. And I'm not making a judgement as to which one is true in this case.
As for my second straw man (or is he yours?), it came in two parts, while you only listed the first one. But fine. Yes, I won't find many people on this here site who say that. But noone said anything about the people on this particular site in the first place. Secondly, we're in Iraq, the guys who got us there are still in power, we elected them, again. Obviously the majority then doesn't mind wasting money on our imperialistic aspirations. Compare 180 billion in two years to NIH or NSF budget.
posted by c13 at 2:11 PM on April 8, 2005


But are they sure it's safe? Wouldn't possible risks be extremely Earth-ruiningly catastrophic?

As a non-scientific person entirely, i kinda think that spewing earth-jizz may not be far off.
posted by amberglow at 12:08 PM on April 9, 2005


amberglow: But are they sure it's safe? Wouldn't possible risks be extremely Earth-ruiningly catastrophic?

*boggles*

Much larger events happen along the mid-Atlantic ridge on a daily basis.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:03 PM on April 9, 2005


do they? and the mantle is exposed?
posted by amberglow at 4:06 PM on April 9, 2005


Well, there are the eruptions that created Atlantis Mastif for example.

I think there is this big misconception going on here that the Earth is this super-pressurized can of stuff that just happens to boil up at weak places in the crust. A great metaphor I've heard once upon a time is that the continental and oceanic plates float on top of the mantle like the foamy scum that collects on top of boiling milk (or mead, maple syrup, or wort if your inclinations bend those ways.) Volcanic hotspots are not really the exception to this rule as the reason magma rises to the surface is because it is more bouyant than the surrounding rocks, not because of some inherent great pressure pushing them up through weak spots.

The end result is that volcanic eruptions are reall huge events, demanding quite a bit more than just 2ft hole to the surface.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:29 PM on April 9, 2005


This is a monumentally bad article.

"This latest effort, which drilled 4,644 feet (1,416 meters) below the ocean seafloor ..."
That is nowhere near deep enough to hit the Moho - even at a mid-ocean ridge you would have to drill kilometers of rock.

"The new hole, which took nearly eight weeks to drill, is the third deepest ever made into the floor of the sea, according to the National Science Foundation (NSF)."
If the NSF said that they should pay more attention. I have worked routinely on wells that go upwards of 20,000 ft into the sea floor - some of them into oceanic crust.
Oh - eight weeks for a deep sea well is nothing - a difficult one will usually be budgeted at around $20m which translates into three months or so. I've worked on ones that took upwards of a year.

Shame they made such a mess of the report, because this is significant news. A knowledge of the precise nature of the upper mantle (which is not liquid and will not shoot out the hole and blast us all into space) would be useful. It would help with finding rocks on the surface that have a similar chemical makeup.
Finding out what is under our feet is, however, inherently worthwhile.
This planet is not a simple thing - it's an intricate set of complex processes spread over many thousands of cubic kilometers operating on timescales ranging from seconds to millennia. We live on top of it and we should try to at least understand a little of how it works.
Oh, and yes, there's money in doing this stuff (although the
JOIDES Resolution and the whole program around it is regarded as incredibly old-fashioned out here in the commercial drilling business).
posted by thatwhichfalls at 9:08 PM on April 9, 2005


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