Russia’s deepest hole sealed due to extreme heat and lack of funding


Near the Norwegian border somewhere in the depths of the Arctic Circle in Russia lies the deepest hole ever drilled, once called “the entrance to hell.”

The hole was a man-made creation through drilling, creating a depth of over 12 kilometers; which is the height of Mount Everest and Mount Fuji combined.

According to the BBC, locals say the hole, located near the Kola Peninsula in northwest Russia, is so deep they can hear the screams of souls from hell. This hole is incredibly deep and narrow, with a width no larger than an average dinner plate.

It took nearly 20 years to drill so deep, but the hole is only a third of the way through Earth’s crust with temperatures reaching 180 degrees Celsius (356 degrees Fahrenheit.)

Unraveling the Earth’s depths

Superdeep borehole, ”Entrance to Hell,” sealed. Uploaded on 14/5/2024 (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

It’s the deepest man-made hole on Earth, made in a project between May 24, 1970, and 1989. Multiple boreholes were drilled throughout the years branching from a central shaft, with the deepest being drilled in 1989 and reaching 12,262 meters, remaining the deepest artificial point on Earth to this day.

Drilling halted due to extreme heat at a depth of 12.5 km beneath the Earth’s surface, causing drilling equipment to malfunction. Despite the impressive depth achievement, it only reached a quarter of Earth’s crust that has an average thickness of 30 km. In 1994, drilling officially ceased, and Russia awaited scientific advancements to continue drilling.

A young scientist who worked on a similar borehole project in Germany commented on the Russian hole saying, “When the Russians began drilling, they claimed to have found abundant water, but most scientists didn’t believe it. There was a prevailing understanding among Western scientists that the crust was so dense 5 km down that water couldn’t penetrate it.”

Similar to the Space Race, there was a race to explore the unknown “deep frontier.” The US initiated it in 1950 with the first serious plan to drill into the Earth’s crust, followed by the Soviets in 1970 and Germany following the two countries in 1990.

Sealing the entrance

The latest drilling discovery in Kola revealed rocks aged 2.7 billion years, much wetter than expected. Previously, scientists didn’t anticipate water at such depths, expecting instead a basalt layer beneath the continent’s granite.

However, they found metamorphic granite (also called gneiss) beneath the granite crust. As the continental crust was granite throughout, it was evidence of plate tectonics, a theory only recently accepted as fact as drilling progressed.

So why did they stop drilling?

Despite the incredible depth of the hole, the drilling teams only managed to reach one-third of the way into the Earth’s crust. As they approached the uppermost layer of the Earth’s crust, things heated up.

At the bottom of the hole, temperatures reached 180 degrees – twice as hot as expected – and much too hot to continue. Since the drilling equipment broke down, and reports suggest there wasn’t funding for such projects, and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the entire facility was shut down.

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