Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Kola Superdeep Borehole (wikipedia.org)
57 points by mrzool on June 18, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 67 comments

The borehole has now been welded shut and is surrounded by the ruins of the project. The actual borehole itself is pretty unassuming for something that goes twelve kilometers into the Earth's crust: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kola_Superdeep_Borehole#/media...

How stable are abandoned holes like that? I would imagine that at those temperatures and pressures, the rock would slowly flow and refill the hole after a while.

It got to 180C at the bottom. That's nowhere near hot enough to melt rock. Not sure about the pressure though. I get the feeling though that rock tends to either stay put or shift all at once (like an earthquake).

Not hot enough to melt, but heat definitely reduces structural integrity of materials. And pressures on the rock so deep are immense. This article linked from Wikipedia seems to confirm that the hole tended to close itself when they were drilling:

"At that level of heat and pressure, the rocks began to act more like a plastic than a solid, and the hole had a tendency to flow closed whenever the drill bit was pulled out for replacement."


I have re-created a CGI Script that we have programmed years ago, when some Russian geologists were visiting our institute.

This visualises a generalised lithological log: That means, some of the rocks recovered from the hole, and their thicknesses.


Let's seee if I manage to make the script more interactive.

"It is rumored that at some point the drilling rig began to vibrate unnaturally as if someone were jerking for it from below."

"When the well reached a mark of about 12,000 meters, scientific equipment recorded sounds resembling the cries and groans of thousands of martyrs emanating from the depths."

I think we've crossed the line from documentary to creepypasta.

1990s were also the times when Russians got very superstitious.

Super interesting.

It's kind of hard to believe how our species has managed to explore furthest of planets, stars and galaxies while just drilling 7.62 miles through the crust of the very planet we exist on and "dominate" [0] -- a testament to how challenging crust drilling can be, right on par with exploring deepest parts of Earth's oceans.

[0] https://www.fs.blog/2016/01/yuval-noah-hararri-on-why-we-dom...

I don’t find it surprising at all that we found traveling through a vacuum easier than traveling through solid granite.

Imagine how much mass that drillbit had to go through and now translate that into the density of interstellar medium. You could probably travel half way across the galaxy before your space ship went through as much matter as that drill.

> a testament to how challenging crust drilling can be, > right on par with exploring deepest parts of Earth's oceans.

except if you read the footnotes it says that Exxon beat the world's record for length of borehole in 60 days. Sounds like drilling in the crust is NBD, been doing it for years, the innovation is all in how to make it turn and twist and do so on time and under budget.

My sense is that it's just not economically rational to drill a hole straight down for no other reason than you want to see how far it can go. Why bother? But it doesn't seem at all to be a technical problem.

I'm curious:

What did/does such a project cost?

Is there substantial scientific value to going further?

I can imagine some tech billionaire(s) funding a follow-on project, esp in a more hospitable location that could attract tourists, press, etc.

This article lead me down the rabbit hole to the page for Mud (drilling fluid) engineer, which might be one of the most vandalized articles I've ever seen (# vandalizing edits/total edits)


glad I'm not the only one who went down that hole (pun very much intended) and started watching videos about the Reelwell Drilling Method and horizontal displacement techniques.

Really interesting experiment. Since the temperature was greater than expected would that have any bearing on being able to use bore holes for geothermal power?

I believe they are trialling this in a few places but I can't help but think that a hole that small (circumference wise!) could be easily implemented and potentially used as an energy source

I was curious about that too. It might just be too expensive to pump water down and back to extract power.

The Wiki claims the mud slurry they were pumping out was also 'bubbling with hydrogen.'

Potentially, some extra energy to go with your geothermal energy.

Continental crust is between 20 miles deep and 50 miles deep, this borehole 'only' managed to get to 7.4 miles deep - we've still go a long way to go before we get to The Lost World of the Dinosaurs.

Must be a special kind of Dinosaurs, which could survive even on Venus.

I was thinking he's referencing Verne's "Voyage au centre de la Terre".


Something tells me Jaruzel was talking archeology instead of live specimens :).

I would like to understand why drilling stopped at the depth it did. Was it something to do with the material at that depth, something to do with the drill, some other factor?

>Because of higher-than-expected temperatures at this depth and location, 180 °C (356 °F) instead of the expected 100 °C (212 °F), drilling deeper was deemed unfeasible and the drilling was stopped in 1992. [0]

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kola_Superdeep_Borehole#Drilli...

180C sounds like a rock that somehow got into the oven and can be easily removed with mitts on, not something like 1,000C lava.

In other words I'm confused by why 180C stopped the drilling process.

Someone attempted to explain that in this post: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17337270

>I would like to understand why drilling stopped at the depth it did. Was it something to do with the material at that depth, something to do with the drill, some other factor?

At that depth, pressure and temperature, the rock behaved like plastic and not solid and the drill was ineffective since the hole would immediately close as they pulled the drill. So they had to give up.

I'm no geologist, but 180C doesn't sound hot enough to make rock behave like plastic.

Ninja-edit: It looks like the temperature / pressure isn't so problematic because of rock moving around, but instead to do with cooling the drill bit (which you can imagine gets quite hot). If temperatures increase, cooling the bit becomes difficult, and at high-pressures, pumping the coolant around becomes very difficult.

Source: https://geekswipe.net/research/engineering/how-deep-can-we-d...

Well, it'd be nice to hear from a geologist actually. But, thanks, that sounds sensible :)

Because the year was 1992 and the former USSR was winding down all sorts of boondoggle projects

Did they make any special geological discoveries?

Did they find any precious metals, etc.?

Also, I'm wondering, is it possible to measure the depth of the hole using a laser?

> Did they make any special geological discoveries?

[From the Wikipedia article:] To scientists, one of the more fascinating findings to emerge from this well is that no transition from granite to basalt was found at the depth of about 7 km (4.3 mi), where the velocity of seismic waves has a discontinuity. Instead the change in the seismic wave velocity is caused by a metamorphic transition in the granite rock. In addition, the rock at that depth had been thoroughly fractured and was saturated with water, which was surprising. This water, unlike surface water, must have come from deep-crust minerals and had been unable to reach the surface because of a layer of impermeable rock.

Another unexpected discovery was a large quantity of hydrogen gas. The mud that flowed out of the hole was described as "boiling" with hydrogen.

> Did they find any precious metals, etc.?

These concentrate in veins, so the single borehole would not be the best way to find out. They were probably recorded in mud logs somewhere.

> is it possible to measure the depth of the hole using a laser

Holes like this are very rarely totally straight as the geology likes to manipulate the drill string as it descends. Whilst this won't be a true deviated well (due to the research goals) I'd be very surprised if there's a vertical hole.

> the rock at that depth had been thoroughly fractured and was saturated with water

This is what makes me think that drilling to great depths and utilizing the energy there for sustainable power generation should be possible.

It's just a matter of developing the right drilling technology. How hard can it be?

Ah, indeed, the dreaded question "How hard can it be?" and its rarely-spoken assumption "that looks simple from my armchair". Well...most of the low-hanging fruit has already been picked, and things that look simple are chock-full of those pesky details that are handwaved away in the birds-eye view. "Just use the right technology," and you have flying cars, strong AI, self-driving vehicles, space elevators and whatnot. How hard can it be?

Glad you caught the irony in that comment ;-)

Somebody should make a reliable sentiment analyser. How hard could that be? ;)

Geothermal isn't really sustainable (in the long, long term). The heat is built up due to some special geology, think an insulating blanket. Once you use this heat to make electricity you lower the temperature of the rock and it takes a very, very long time to warm up again.

It is sustainable enough under any reasonable scenario, and will in effect mainly just harness some of the heat that already dissipates.

As for for rewarming the rock: if the strata that were porous and water filled were found at the appropriate levels this problem would be reduced. One would not need to hydro-shear the rock is normal in EGS plants nowadays (with some inconvenient side-effects - see Basel)[0]

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enhanced_geothermal_system

How many Watts would a single such hole generate? And how sustainable would it be?

> I'd be very surprised if there's a vertical hole.

Ok, is the reported depth the true depth, or the length along the hole?

On this page, about 1/3 down the way (it's in Russian) is a nice schematic of the hole that shows it's not vertical at all:


The depth is the true depth, apparently.

Google Translate (to English) works really well on this article.

> is it possible to measure the depth of the hole using a laser?

Would be surprised if it's perfectly straight. Drills for oil etc can turn .

A nice video explainer from scishow: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zz6v6OfoQvs

Please don't link to scishow. They produce trash, and often don't do due diligence with their videos.

That's a shame, I like their presenters. Are there any interesting science-related YouTube channels that you can recommend?

I like a lot of PBS's content. Like physics girl, and what the physics. Engineer Guy also produces good content. MinutePhysics is also a good choice. As for math related topics, I love 3Blue1Brown.

In general I find science journalism lacking.

My biggest problem with SciShow is that it's a bunch of people who lack a true science background commenting on topics. I really don't think that they do their due diligence in reporting, there's been cases where they present incorrect findings, and hype up the physically impossible.

Cool, thanks for the recommendations. I gravitated to SciShow because was produced by Hank Green, who's other YouTube offerings I really enjoy. I guess it's a lesson to be more critical with my sources, regardless of the author's previous work.

Was there some explosion in one of those buildings? Doesn't look like theft/vandalism to me...

Looks like the drill tower used to be there, maybe they just wholesale lifted the proprietary drilling rig out of there. I'm sure they had to invent a thing or two about drilling to do this research.

You fear to go into those mines. The Dwarves dug too greedily and too deep. You know what they awoke in the darkness of Khazad-dûm... shadow and flame.".

Back when Russia actually did science.

List of Science Nobel Prizes educated in the USSR:

- Andre Geim, Physics, 2010

- Konstantin Novoselov, Physics, 2010

- Alexei Alexeyevich Abrikosov, Physics, 2003

- Vitaly Ginzburg, Physics, 2003

- Zhores Alferov, Physics, 2000

- Pyotr Kapitsa, Physics, 1978

- Ilya Prigogine, Chemistry, 1977

- Leonid Kantorovich, Economics, 1975

- Nikolay Basov, Physics, 1964

- Alexander Prokhorov, Physics, 1964

- Lev Landau, Physics, 1962

- Pavel Cherenkov, Physics, 1958

- Igor Tamm, Physics, 1958

- Ilya Mikhailovich Frank, Physics, 1958

- Nikolay Semyonov, Chemistry, 1956

List of Nobel Prizes educated in post-Soviet Russia:

Most of them either were educated in (old, pre-USSR) Russia, or by people who had Russian education. Once the generation changed, people educated in/by Soviet system achieved... well, you've listed it.

Your lack of arithmetic is disturbing.

Do you have something more substantial to offer?

Or will you suggest that a country where communism is "scientific" and whole areas of science can be banned is actually capable of developing homegrown science? This is laughable on its face.

You mean like Cuba? https://eu.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2018/01/09/cuba-has...

Your claim is that most of these Nobel prizes were educated in the Russian Empire is simply false based on their age.

Can you provide examples of these whole areas of science banned in the USSR/socialist states?

You could have read the entire sentence -- while there were some remnants of the pre-revolution education teaching in schools, there were Nobels. Once they had died out, and the new generation educated in Soviet schools by Soviet-educated teachers appeared, Nobels went away.

I guess you have never heard about genetics? It's generally considered to be a science. Except in USSR where for a long time it was officially termed a pseudo-science and a call-girl of imperialism.

Your point is that Soviet education was bad. By 1980 it was as good (if not better) than American education.




What you're talking about is Lysenkoism and it was mostly during Stalin rule. Later Soviet biologists actually criticized Lysenko and the whole anti-genetics stance. Similar movements also happened in Western science, like Social Darwinism for example.

Social Darwinism or anything like that has never been appointed as the one and only TRUE THING with scientific opponents sent off to labor camps.

Also, soviet high elementary through high school education was... I'm not sure if "better" is the correct word, but it certainly taught more science than American schools do, if we compare average American school with a good school in Moscow, Leningrad, or similar large cities.

College level education in USSR was nowhere near as good as American -- you can't have good education if teaching people to think for themselves is physically dangerous.

[Source: I attended better than average schools and a decent college in Moscow]

I imagine there are political reasons for this.

You mean a Monarchy Western-based association has anything to win giving prizes to the Evil Empire at the peak of the Cold War? Hardly convincing.

There's a well known urban legend about the borehole that they stopped drilling when a scientist lowered a microphone into the hole. When they played back the recording they heard terrible screams, supposedly from people trapped in hell. Nice campfire story!

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Well_to_Hell_hoax

Any mention of the Kola Borehole isn't complete without a mention to this story.

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact