During the cold war era, there was a space race that we all are familiar of between the two rival countries USA and USSR. But, there was another race between the two countries that went largely unnoticed and wasn’t so well-known because the world was focused on the space race. It was a race that took place between the two nation’s greatest drillers.
The Americans and the Soviets started planning separate efforts to drill as deep as possible into the Earth’s crust, with no specific purpose.
The American’s initialized the drilling and named it as ‘Project Mohole’, which took place off the Mexico’s Pacific coast. However, due to lack of funding, they eventually terminated the project but set an important paradigm for future offshore drilling projects.
One of the six submerged buoys used for dynamic positioning in Project Mohole. Source: wikipedia
In response to that, the Russians, after learning about America’s attempts, started their own drilling project on the Kola Peninsula. They started drilling the hole just to show the Americans that they were better.
The Russians drilled for 24 years between 1970 and 1994 and created the deepest hole ever made by humans, which is now called as the Kola Superdeep Borehole.
Kola Superdeep Borehole (Source: imgur)
There wasn’t any particular reason or a specific motive or goal for these projects; the two countries just wanted to know how deep they can drill.
However, the project that the Russians carried out actually ended up producing a significant amount of valuable scientific data. One of the most important discoveries was the detection of microscopic plankton fossils in rocks which were over 2 billion years old and were found four miles beneath the surface of the earth.
Other interesting discoveries were the absence of a transition from granite to basalt at a depth between 3 to 6 kilometers below the surface, as predicted by scientists, and the discovery of unexpected, large quantities of Hydrogen gas.
The Russians drilled the holes for many years and after reaching 40,318 feet deep they stopped the project. The project had to be abandoned because of the scorching temperature of 356 degrees Fahrenheit at the hole’s maximum depth, which was much higher than the originally predicted 212 degrees. At this temperature, the drill was completely unfruitful. The project was officially closed down in 2005.
Title image: sciencevibe