The Kola Superdeep Borehole hides some dark secrets. Would you believe me if I told you that the largest hole ever excavated by humans is hidden beneath this rusted, abandoned metal cap pictured below? That there are 12,262 meters (40,230 feet) of nothingness under this metal seal, which is barely 9 inches in diameter? Even if you harbor doubts, give me a chance to explain. Allow me, ladies and gentlemen.
Down the Rabbit hole of Wonder
The space race during the Cold War dominated the news, but the digging competition was just as fierce (digging boreholes, that is). This is the Kola Superdeep Borehole, a project that was funded between 1970 and 1994 by the USSR and then Russia.
Superdeep boreholes offered much-needed information for a better understanding of the underlying geology by leveraging direct observation at a time when geologists and geophysicists had only indirect evidence as to what was happening in the Earth’s crust. The data acquired from the Kola Superdeep Borehole is still being examined and analyzed today.
Utilizing Soviet heavy equipment, the Uralmash-4E, a serial drilling rig used to drill oil wells, drilling started on May 24, 1970. 7,000 meters of depth could now be reached by the rig thanks to the extensive modifications the engineers made to the rig.
The Uralmash-15000 drilling rig, an improved model with a new target depth of 15,000 meters, was built up on site in 1974 to make the Kola Superdeep Borehole even deeper.
On 6 June 1979, the world record as the deepest hole on earth, held by the Bertha Rogers hole in Washita County, Oklahoma, United States, at 9,583 meters, was broken. The first hole of the Kola Superdeep Borehole was drilled to a depth of 11,662 meters in October 1982, and the second hole was started in January 1983 from a depth of 9,300 meters in the first hole.
First Startling Discoveries
The absence of the alleged “basaltic layer” at a depth of roughly 7 km was the first surprise the Soviets encountered. Prior to this, the best geological information regarding the deeper portions of the crust was gleaned by studying seismic waves, which indicated a discontinuity. In other words, they expected to find granites at the surface and basalts as they descended deeper.
To everyone’s shock, though, they discovered… additional granites as they dug further. It turns out that the granites’ metamorphosis, not the basalts’, was what produced the seismic discontinuity.
The Discovery of Water
They also discovered water between 3 and 6 km deep. Water should not have been there at those depths based on the knowledge we had at the time, but yet, there it was. We now know that even deep granites are susceptible to fracture and that these fissures can become water-filled.
Technically speaking, water is simply hydrogen and oxygen atoms that have been trapped in impermeable “layers” of rock by the intense pressures brought on by the depth.
Researchers also noted the removal of mud that was “boiling with hydrogen”; the presence of such significant hydrogen concentrations at such depths was totally unexpected.
The Kola Superdeep Borehole Mystery Deepens
The discovery of life—microscopic plankton fossils in rocks older than two billion years, located four miles below the surface—was without a doubt the biggest surprise. These “microfossils” represented roughly 24 extinct species and were preserved in organic substances that had managed to withstand the high pressures and temperatures that existed so deep below the Earth.
This brought up several issues regarding the potential for life to survive at such amazing depths.
The discovery of those fossils was shocking at the time, but research has since shown that life can exist even in the oceanic crust and that even macroscopic life can be found at depths of more than 1 km.
Researchers began to discover that the temperature rose more quickly than they had anticipated at depths greater than 10,000 feet, and the machinery was showing signs of strains due to the intense pressure exerted by the good ol’ Earth.
Drilling was put on hold for approximately a year in 1983 when the drill reached the initial target depth of 12,000 meters in the second hole. This allowed for numerous scientific and celebratory visits to the site. The history of the planet and the rock formations have also been the subject of several research.
I have no idea why they would “celebrate” by pausing for a year.
Earth Proves to be a Strong Contender
Nevertheless, taking this protracted sabbatical turned out to be devastating. On September 27, 1984, a piece of the drill string twisted off and was left in the hole after drilling to a depth of 12,066 meters. This required abandoning the current work. In September 1986, drilling was resumed 7,000 meters from the original hole.
The 12,000-meter milestone was once more exceeded by 1989, and in 1993, drills descended to a depth of 15,000 meters. But more obstacles were about to come.
The biggest problem was a lack of funding for additional drill advances. Drilling turned out to be an expensive endeavor with little to no return on investment after the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991. Additionally, after surpassing a depth of 15,000 meters, the third hole’s drill malfunctioned once more, causing further repairs and extended periods of maintenance.
Even worse, boring deeper proved illogical and impossible because of the higher-than-anticipated temperatures at this depth and location. When the hole reached its maximum length, the temperature was a shocking 180 °C (356 °F), instead of the estimated 100 °C (212 °F), and temperatures continued to rise above projected values.
The rock behaved something like plastic as a result of the unexpected fall in density, increased porosity, and unusually high temperatures, giving the drill the appearance as though it was churning molten clay.
The Kola Superdeep Borehole ceased its operations in 1994 for each of these reasons. The process was completed and the area was sealed by 1995. The drilling was discontinued in 1992 because the drill bit could no longer function at those temperatures.
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The Well of Horror: The Rumors and Conspiracies
Despite the fact that the official explanation offered by the state was taken for granted by media outlets around the world, dark rumors and conspiracy theories quickly emerged. Many claims that the Soviet Union’s dissolution was not the real cause for abandoning the Kola project, nor did it have anything to do with the rising temperatures in the borehole. Apparently, the drills were made to function in such extreme temperatures, and temperatures weren’t supposed to hinder the progress.
To many, the real reason the drilling stopped hold basis on something far darker. While drilling, the Kola Superdeep Borehole unintentionally entered hell.
According to the local belief, the drill broke into caverns miles below the earth after years of drilling. The screams of the tortured souls in hell were audible to the researchers as they lowered their heat-proof recording devices. The officials swiftly gave up on the idea and shut the site down before leaving the Kola Peninsula for good.
However, the tale is thought to have started in a tabloid in Finland and spread throughout the world, before arriving in the United States in 1989. Other versions of the story, however, claim that investigations into the recently discovered hell continued, but when the demons began to rush out, all hell broke loose (pun intended), and the project was abandoned for good.
We can only speculate as to whether the assertions have any real foundation at all, notwithstanding the possibility that the precise cause for the Kola Superdeep Borehole shutdown will never be made public.
Back to verified facts, in 2005, the entire project was abandoned because of a (you guessed it) financial shortfall. The hole was welded shut by the metal cap we still see as if to seal off any devils or mysteries that might lurk beneath.
All the drilling and research equipment was scrapped, and while data generated by the Kola Superdeep Borehole drilling project continues to be analyzed, the site itself has been abandoned since 2008.
Sadly, if you visit the now-abandoned site, you won’t be able to peer down the hole that is still the deepest one ever excavated below the surface. For now, it seems, the tangible realm is safe from the horrors of the supernatural realm.
Speaking of supernatural, you can now read the true story of How the Mothman Caused The Chernobyl Disaster, or How A Guy Tries To Blow Up The Parliament, and Failed Miserably!
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