The Uncovering Of Enigmatic Fossils In The Earth’s Deepest Hole Led To Its Sealing

Published on 02/25/2021
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Deep Adventures Into The Depths

There is a peninsula in Russia situated in the enormous country’s isolated northwest regions where a crew of scientists has been endlessly burrowing down into the middle of our planet for decades. This plummeting borehole’s depths go on for more than 40,000 feet. But their intrepid dig would suddenly come to an abrupt end when a startling discovery led to the team needing to frantically seal the huge hole up forever. They ran into something so terrifying that they were forced to abandon their many years of hard work in an instant.

Deep Adventures Into The Depths

Deep Adventures Into The Depths

Human Curiosity

People have been digging deep into the earth since we discovered the needed technology, just as we have been soaring into orbit since the 1957 launching of the initial artificial satellite into space. With the advent of private businesses and international space organizations, this progress has made incredible strides. It could very well be that the ground beneath our feet is just as fascinating as the starry sky above our heads, if only we could find safer ways to navigate it.

Human Curiosity

Human Curiosity

Eyes Up, Not Down

It is said that humans understand space better than we do our own planet’s inner contents. Certainly, most people probably know more about our solar system than they do about the underground world. The thought of taking a rocket into the cosmos is more exciting than burrowing into the dark and suffocating earth. But that doesn’t mean that the world’s superpowers weren’t interested in what lies below. While most of us have a basic understanding of the Cold War’s heated space race between the U.S.S.R. and the United States, how many know about the historical competition to dominate the subterranean realms?

Eyes Up Not Down

Eyes Up Not Down

20th Century Explorers

It all began towards the end of the 1950s, when two rival teams, one Soviet and one American, commenced putting together a complicated series of experiments aimed at breaking through our planet’s crust. The scientists, geologists, and explorers involved were preparing for the adventure of a lifetime. It was believed that the Earth’s core was 30 miles deep, with a thick shell leading into the mantle, which is the enigmatic deeper layer of the earth that consists of around 40% of the Earth’s bulk.

20th Century Explorers

20th Century Explorers

Subterranean Communists

The Soviets were now working fast and hard toward getting their burrowing expedition off the ground (or into it). It was during 1970, on a sunny May 24, that a group of scientists commenced their drilling project down into the Pechengsky District ground. This was in the Kola Peninsula area in Russia where a tiny amount of people lived. This meant that they had plenty of space to work in. It was their mission to break through as deeply into Earth’s crust as was humanly possible.

Subterranean Communists

Subterranean Communists

Cutting The Edges

At the ground base, these enthusiastic Soviet scientists set out to hit a milestone of around 49,000 feet beneath the planet’s crust. They were furnished with the most advanced equipment in the U.S.S.R. to do with mining, which they used to first dig a main chasm from which a range of boreholes branched off in separate directions. As they were busying themselves with their descent, so too were their American counterparts on the other side of the world.

Cutting The Edges

Cutting The Edges

The Lonesome Stars

Over in the United States, the “Lone Star Producing Company” and its dedicated employees got to work in 1974 in Oklahoma’s Washita County. They were drilling into the earth in search of oil. The work was not easy, to put it mildly, as the personnel encountered many lethal difficulties and near-death experiences. Few had even considered that the project was even possible. But their efforts resulted in the establishment of the “Bertha Rogers hole”, a “hole” that measured more than 31,400 feet, which comes to around six miles into the planet’s surface.

 

The Lonesome Stars

The Lonesome Stars

New Lows

This was a pioneering dig – this was the deepest that humans had made it into our planet’s center! But despite the drillers’ best efforts, they were unable to strike black gold. And although the Bertha Rogers hole would become the deepest one on Earth, there was an even more adventurous mining mission that would take place in 1979. On June 6 of that year, a Kola borehole known as SG-3 went even further down. Four years later, this hole, was deepened to an astonishing 39,000 feet through the planet’s coating. Despite its phenomenal depth, its width was just nine inches!

New Lows

New Lows

Breaking Through The Limits

The Kola Peninsula scientists were now satisfied with their record-setting achievement and for the time being took some time off burrowing. The following year saw plenty of other parties taking tours of the jaw-dropping project. Can you imagine looking down into such a hole? But it wouldn’t be long before the Russian scientists felt the itch to explore further. A year later, the project recommenced. But this time, it would not go on for very long when a devastating technical issue brought the drilling to a grinding stop. Some obstacle had fallen into the team’s path, one which there seemed no way around.

Breaking Through The Limits

Breaking Through The Limits

Reaching Higher

That is not to say that the crew gave up hope, however, as the scientists simply returned to a less deep borehole measuring 23,000 feet below the earth’s surface and got back to work. By the time 1989 arrived, their efforts had broken their previous record with a 40,230 foot drop, which came to 7,5 miles. The team was inspired, and this now decade-long mission was bound to go on until the end of the 90s where they would break past the 44,000 feet mark. Had they gone too far?

Reaching Higher

Reaching Higher

Hope For The Future

To add to their estimated achievements, they were sure that the beginning of 1993 would see them hit the 49,000 feet depth. Ordinary humans had not even been able to imagine what life at this level looked like. What they also didn’t know was that underneath the isolated tundra in Russia, one shocking enigma lay waiting for the Soviet crew. It was when the Russian crew was approaching the planet’s core that an entirely unforeseen consequence hit the miners.

Hope For The Future

Hope For The Future

Jules Verne Would Have Been Impressed

The initial 10,000 feet brought a relatively accurate temperature reading within the borehole that the scientists had predicted. That being said, not long past this point, things started getting much, much warmer. As the crew commenced closing in on its goal, the temperatures were reaching a critical level of 180° (356 °F), which was a fearsome 80° C (176° F) higher than what the scientists had estimated. The scientists were shocked that they were even able to operate at such tremendous heats.

Jules Verne Would Have Been Impressed

Jules Verne Would Have Been Impressed

A Dream Decades In The Making

This was just the tip of the iceberg, however. These scientists established that the rocky substance of this inferno had a density far lower than the one in their hypotheses. This meant that the fiery temperatures caused the rock to react with odd and erratic results. The Kola crew were not about to risk their extremely expensive and irreplaceable gear being destroyed and were heartbreakingly forced to pull out. The year was now 1992, more than two decades into the project.

A Dream Decades In The Making

A Dream Decades In The Making

Treasures In The Deep

But the scientists would not walk away empty-handed as they made their hasty retreat from the Kola Superdeep Borehole (which was the only appropriate name for such a dig). One of the most fascinating things that they unearthed were marine plants fossils. Such naturals treasures had been phenomenally preserved after an eternity deep undergound. This was especially fascinating given the immeasurable time that such formations had been buried miles beneath the earth and its ancient rocks believed to be aged at more than two billion years.

Treasures In The Deep

Treasures In The Deep

Just Warming Up

This was just the beginning of their uncovering process, however, as the Kola Superdeep Borehole’s limits that had pushed the scientists back would yield the most fascinating discoveries. The seismic waves that the professionals were reading before the dig suggested that the rock of the Earth’s crust is filled with granite, which transforms into basalt at a four miles depth. Such a process would not be present in the Kola Peninsula. So what exactly had they found?

Just Warming Up

Just Warming Up

The Earth’s Ebb And Flow

The scientists were amazed that only granite surrounded them, no matter how far they descended. It was then that their opinion that the editions in the seismic waves had been caused by metamorphic changes within the rock, and not a transformation into basalt. This opinion would also turn out to be wrong, however. Incredibly, small rivers were located at these crushing reaches, something that no one could have guessed were down there. The thought of flowing water deep into the planet was unimaginable!

The Earths Ebb And Flow

The Earths Ebb And Flow

Zealous Inspiration

Although some excited religious types believed that the biblically described flood had been proven by these underworld rivers, these wonders were thought to have been caused by the immense pressure at these levels cramming the hydrogen atoms and oxygen from the rock. Impermeable rocks formed by the ancient water would then be unable to make their way out. While this discovery might not have been divinely caused, it certainly seemed miraculous to everyone involved.

Zealous Inspiration

Zealous Inspiration

End Of An Era

While the Kola Superdeep Borehole project was coming to a premature end, the Soviet Union was also on its way out. The year 1995 saw the initiative being conclusively decided. In modern times, this spot is largely closed off as a dangerous site, but keen tourists can visit the most fascinating discoveries of the mission at Zapolyarny, a town six miles past the hole. No one has managed to go beyond the Kola crew, making this borehole the king of the artificial holes.

End Of An Era

End Of An Era

Moving Steadily Downwards

People haven’t quite given up on reaching our planet’s core yet, however. The efforts have now turned to our oceans, where the International Ocean Discovery Program’s drilling platforms tirelessly proceed with their scouring of the world underneath the ocean. The experts involved constantly suffer technical malfunctions and supreme temperatures as they carry the torch of their Russian and American predecessors in search of hidden wonders. Whether they will encounter the same catastrophic end that the Russian crew did is up for debate.

Moving Steadily Downwards

Moving Steadily Downwards

The World Beneath

While many subterranean explorers will try their best to hit the Earth’s core, others will trailblaze through other pioneering deep routes, such as the two-man submersible that headed off through the freezing Antarctica waters. They were going where no human had ever been before, far below the waves close to the South Pole in search of new phenomena. What the two brave souls and their monitoring team found was a mind-blowing peek at a realm beyond our wildest dreams.

The World Beneath

The World Beneath

The Patient Explorers

These intrepid explorers did not simply hop into their submersible one day and decide to go to the next level of adventuring, however. For two years, a heavy load of precise research was put towards establishing the ideal window and position to plunge into the freezing depths. Two years might seem like a long time, but it was a necessary effort, given that we as a species are better aware of our solar system’s neighbors than our own home’s watery depths.

The Patient Explorers

The Patient Explorers

Our Personal Galaxy

It might sound crazy, but we know more about Mars’s barren landscapes than we do about our ocean’s floors that extend for miles far beyond our beaches. Let us try to establish the scale of things. The general gap between our planet and mars spans around 140 million miles. Then the general deepest parts of the seabed measures at a little above 12,000 feet, or almost two miles. The distances are incomparable, and yet we have done so little to explore such a relatively tiny length.

Our Personal Galaxy

Our Personal Galaxy

Iceberg Alley

That is not to say that exploring a place like Antarctica’s underside is an easy task! Such projects require some of the brightest minds in the related fields, tons of funding, and a lot of time. To begin with, the explorers were tasked with establishing the safest and most efficient location to begin the drop. Finally, a place named “Iceberg Alley” was chosen. This might sound like a humorous name, but this area had a great reason to come to be known as such.

Iceberg Alley

Iceberg Alley

Crushing Obstacles

This “alley” makes up a channel bordering the frosty Peninsula’s most north-reaching areas. This spread of ocean is ringed by large hunks of moving ice, where slabs of ice as big as cars drift along next to monsters that stretch on for around 600 square meters. This meant that sailing through such hazardous terrain would be a highly risky mission, one which only the most knowledgeable veterans of Antarctica’s professionals could navigate. Who could rise to the challenge?

Crushing Obstacles

Crushing Obstacles

The Next Dimension

No matter how eager any of the personnel were to jump into a submarine, even the best theories regarding how well the vessel would perform under such monstrous pressure were just that, theories. Whatever fears the team may have held melted away when they commenced their 3,000-foot plunge. The reason? At this watery chasm they located a jaw-dropping ecosystem brimming with wonderful organisms, such as the creature that they borrowed a name from the Star Wars films.

The Next Dimension

The Next Dimension

Unexpected Abundance

Those that live in Antarctica will happily tell you that living in such intense and merciless conditions is not for everyone. Sadly, the majority of this hardy population knows little of what seems like another dimension underneath their feet where completely alien wonders thrive. According to Mark Taylor, who took part in the dive, “Within a square yard there is more life in the deep of the Antarctic than there is in the reefs of the Barrier Reef of Australia.” How could such an inhospitable place be the home to such biodiversity?

Unexpected Abundance

Unexpected Abundance

Snowy Sustenance

For one, the marine snow uncovered by the scientists under Antarctica went deeper than anything that Dr. John Copley of the University of Southampton had witnessed throughout the entire Earth’s seas. You might be wondering just what marine snow is. This is essentially a vital component of the seabed that permits life to thrive in such otherwise unlivable conditions. This much marine snow had something crucial to do with the wonderful ecosystem that the submarine crew had stumbled upon.

Snowy Sustenance

Snowy Sustenance

Food In The Dark

To put it simply, the living substances which trickle down to the seabed from the higher reaches eventually turn into marine snow. This stuff then becomes one of the few forms of sustenance that the creatures that choose to live in such depths rely on. This sunlight-enriched food then provides the energy and nutrition to the organisms in these dark areas which are free of any kind of surface-level enrichment. Without marine snow, these animals could not survive if it wasn’t for another kind of food.

Food In The Dark

Food In The Dark

Tiny Helpers

We now turn our attention to a separate but no less essential form of nourishment that the members of the Antarctic underworld enjoy: krill feces. You probably know that krill are the minuscule crustaceans that whales love to swallow in vast quantities. But their presence also cares for a less obvious group in the ocean. It is their droppings that transform the seabed from a barren wasteland into a murky home ideal for some organisms. You can bet that anything that makes it through the day in such unusual circumstances will appear out of this world.

Tiny Helpers

Tiny Helpers

The Horrors Of Antarctica’s Underworld

So, what exactly could one see if they happened to take a submarine below the Antarctic? Let’s start with the Antarctic Sunstar, which is the creature that one Star Wars fan felt would be better be named as the Death Star, or Labidiaster Annulatus in Latin. While this organism might be related to your average starfish, you would struggle to guess that if someone hadn’t told you so. This is one bizarre creature, perhaps the weirdest in the ocean!

The Horrors Of Antarcticas Underworld

The Horrors Of Antarcticas Underworld

The Unimaginable Predator

Let’s begin its description with its development. The Death Star could easily sprout around fifty appendages and its growth can extend beyond the size of a hubcap. If you had to look closely at this thing, you might notice the tiny pincers which coat its many arms’ surface, which clamp closed whenever they bump into unsuspecting prey. While the Death Star might owe its life to krill’s bowel movements, that does not stop it from feeding on the tiny fellows. And that is not even the oddest part of the sinister Sunstar…

The Unimaginable Predator

The Unimaginable Predator

When The Fish Are Away…

Fish are obviously the most competitive and dominant predators inside our planet’s oceans, but not in this one. The Death Star is just one incredible difference in the hierarchy witnessed within Antarctica. You can bet that the majority of fish will stay away from the inhospitably cold temperatures of the South Pole. There is just a small number of fish types that could brave these chilling waters and live. With less competition from the outside world, the Antarctic Sunstar has become an apex predator.

When The Fish Are Away

When The Fish Are Away

A Higher Purpose

But the divers were not simply gazing into what seemed like an alien world. They were being privileged with a rare glimpse into an Earth millions of years into past, where humans were just a potential species. During this ancient period, invertebrates were the kings and fed on the weaker creatures at their pleasure. Dr. Copley was sure that he was looking at a vision of what the ocean was like over 250 million years in the past.

A Higher Purpose

A Higher Purpose

Inner Warmth

Then we have the Cryodraco Antarcticus which shares the murky habitat with the Death Star within the Antarctic Ocean, also known as the ice dragonfish. This is a creature that has evolved in some incredible ways to beat the freezing temperatures. You might not believe it, but its blood is filled with antifreeze-like proteins that stop the ice dragonfish from becoming a popsicle. If you had to inspect its blood, you would be amazed to find that it had no color, given that this creature’s veins are free of hemoglobin, the protein molecule that tirelessly carts oxygen throughout our human bodies.

Inner Warmth

Inner Warmth

Looking To The Past To Fix The Future

There was a greater goal to Dr. Copley an company’s efforts that went beyond a stunning sightseeing adventure, however. While they came face to face with all manner of weird and wonderful sea creatures in a pioneering marine biology expedition, they wanted to learn some crucial coping mechanisms from them. Just how life manages to thrive in such crushing conditions beneath the Antarctic Ocean could easily inspire new developments in the team’s conservation strategies across the South pole.

Looking To The Past To Fix The Future

Looking To The Past To Fix The Future

We Are One

In an interview with the BBC, Dr. Copley spoke of how, “On these dives, we watched the everyday lives of Antarctic deep-sea animals, helping us to understand them much better than studying specimens collected by nets or trawls from ships. And [it’s] helping us to investigate how our own lives are connected to this remote yet fragile environment.” This is certainly a delicate ecosystem, and the last thing that Dr. Copley wanted to do was disrupt its sensitive flow.

We Are One

We Are One

The Inspirational Doctor

But it isn’t just the most out-of-the-way sections of the ocean that are an enigma. Many of the safer and warmer parts of our seas are still shrouded in darkness. Dr. Copley also wished to inspire further deep-sea dive projects in his counterparts across the world. If he could breach a mile deep into Iceberg Alley into one of the most remote and freezing spots in the world, there was nothing stopping anyone for reaching any place on Earth. All that it takes, according to Dr. Copley, is the right attitude.

The Inspirational Doctor

The Inspirational Doctor

More Mysteries To Solve, For Everyone

This isn’t a process that is simply limited to scientists, however. Or rather, more people could be involved in this exploration process than we think. This is our world, after all, and yet we are so limited to a relatively small space. With people like Dr. Copley and his team reaching new depths, who knows what others may be capable of? One of his brightest hopes for our future is that more of us become involved in mapping out and appreciating our planet.

More Mysteries To Solve For Everyone

More Mysteries To Solve For Everyone

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