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Project Mohole: the crazy, crazy story of the deepest well we’ve ever dug No Comments

Paper supports everything. A breakfast that also works on a sunny patio on the California coast. That way, between the coming and going cups of coffee, croissants, and toast with jam, a group of scientists, geologist Harry Hess and oceanographer Walter Munk from the picturesque American Miscellaneous Society (AMSOC) were in 1957. decided to start a research proposal: open a big hole on earth.

And it’s not a huge exaggeration.

What Hess and Munk suggested was drilling. one kilometer well It will make it possible to reach and extract a sample of what is known as the Mohorovičić discontinuity, which is the boundary between the earth’s crust and the mantle, located 25 to 40 kilometers and 5 to 10 km deep on the continents. if the reference is the ocean floor. Moreover, once they dug in, even a sample of the planet’s own mantle could be obtained.

“Sounds so simple and logical”

The idea sounded like a dream, but the year was 1957, the space race was gaining momentum, and against the backdrop of the Cold War, the USA was keenly interested in any project that would allow it to show its scientific strength before the USSR.

And, as AMSOC’s Willard Bascom will agree, the offer seemed perfectly reasonable as you and your colleagues enjoyed the morning sun on the Pacific coast with a hot coffee in hand.

“The project made a sound it’s that simple and logical At a business breakfast on a sunny terrace, after a while he wrote about the strange brainstorming.

Simple or not – which, spoiler: no, it wasn’t – the idea paid off. Their supporters knew how to take advantage of the strong winds of international rivalry and let go of how far the Russians had come in science and how they looked with interest at the discovery of the Mohorovičić discontinuity.

1957 was the year the Soviet Sputnik was released, so the strategy worked and the drilling project received support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), a government agency created seven years ago.

Adventure baptized mohole projectCombination of the words “Moho” and “hole”, an abbreviation for Mohorovičić in English. Short Simple. It is easy to use and understand. Anything that wouldn’t turn out to be the scientific challenge itself.

black hole

“Where will we get the money?” But that wasn’t the only question scientists had to solve. Equally, or even more important, another question is “Where to drill?”

The answer was a very special place in the Pacific, near the Island of Guadalupe off the coast of Mexico. And there was good reason for that. Had efforts focused on the ocean floor, the team would have had to drill many fewer meters into the Earth’s crust. not an insignificant advantage when the target is kilometers deep.

The problem, of course, is that this requires moving from a ship, in the middle of the ocean, among the waves, and placing the drilling equipment deeper than 3,000 m. “It’s like trying to work on the Earth’s surface from a helicopter half a mile high,” geologist Donna Blackman tells Vox.

The challenge may sound less impressive today, with the Japanese drill ship Chikyu drilling record-breaking holes and researchers reaching 8,023 meters underwater, but in the 1950s it was.

Oil companies had not yet started drilling in such deep waters, and embarking on a company like the one proposed by AMSOC had to answer a number of technical questions beforehand: How to keep the ship stationary in the middle of the ocean to deploy the drilling rig? ? Anchoring was impractical given that it was so far from the seafloor, so the ultimate solution was to use anchor. a propeller system.

They had to apply the same ingenuity to solve other problems that were the same or more difficult: How is the pipeline deployed at such low levels and between strong currents? How to drill to the depth needed to reach Moho? And once these challenges are resolved, how will you get the samples aboard?

With a plan drawn up, in 1961 scientists sailed the CUSS I ship to Guadalupe Island to deploy what was to be the first phase of Project Mohole. Technicians drilled a total of half a dozen wells, the deepest at 183 meters and 3,600 meters underwater. The machine reached 13 m to the basalt of the upper oceanic crust.

It was a long, long way from the 20,000 feet required to reach Moho and the mantle, but quite successful it even led President John F. Kennedy to telegraph to the National Academy of Sciences to celebrate what he saw as “an extraordinary achievement, a historic milestone.”

But neither Kennedy’s good words, nor the company’s promise, nor his demonstrated ability to overcome technical difficulties helped Project Mohole go much further.

Drilling a hole in the ocean floor was expensive, and in 1966 the US Congress decided it was not in their interest to continue paying for it. Add to that the bureaucratic errors, the dissolution of AMSOC in 1964, and the differences among team members on what the next steps should be, and you still have the epitome of a project remembered as a special chapter in 20th century science. and served to illustrate the interesting possibilities of drilling the ocean floor.

Mohole Project didn’t mark the end The one kilometer-long Kola super-deep well, a target that the Soviets also focused on, left behind equally interesting stories of 12.2 kilometers.

Companies that are not simple but so attractive that, as Bascom admits, it’s hard to turn their back on them when they’re discussed on paper.

Images: NOAA (Wikipedia) And Australia (Flickr)

On Xataka: When Apollo 11 astronauts spent three weeks in a NASA bunker for fear of “moon bugs”

Source: Xataka

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