Chikyū, the Japanese drilling ship. Photo: Wikipedia
Once again, scientists are looking inward to explore the next frontier. Researchers at Japan’s Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) announced this week that an excavation is planned in which the team will attempt to successfully drill all the way through Earth’s crust for the first time in history.
The history of humans trying to reach the Earth’s mantle goes back more than 50 years. In all that time, scientists have never managed to drill past the crust. Most recently, the Joint Oceanographic Institutions for Deep Earth Sampling attempted the ambitious task but only made it around 700 metres deep.
CNN reports that the researchers say that they will use the Chikyū drilling ship to accomplish their goal. The ship is capable drilling three times deeper than vessels that have previously tried and failed to dig through Earth’s crust. And they’re going to need every inch of that machine. The researchers plan to extend the drill 2.5 miles below the ocean’s surface, then bore through 3.7 miles of Earth’s crust and finally gather samples from the mantle.
They plan to launch a preliminary study off the coast of Hawaii in September. Until that research has been conducted there’s no way to set a firm timetable for the project but Natsue Abe, a researcher for JAMSTEC tells CNN that they believe 2030 would be the latest date to start drilling. A location near Costa Rica and another off the coast of Mexico are also being considered as potential drilling spots.
Abe says that the mission has several goals. First and foremost, the scientists hope that by studying the mantle we’ll be able to work out better systems for predicting earthquakes. Beyond that, they hope to better understand the boundary between the crust and the mantle as well as gain insight into the history of our planet. We could learn more about the movement of continents over millions of years and previous digs have discovered life far deeper than was previously estimated. “[What is] the limit of the life inside the Earth?” Abe asks.
We’ll know more after the study is conducted in September. For now, the barriers to entry are the undetermined costs of the exhibition and figuring out if new technologies will need to be developed. A spokesman for JAMSTEC tells the Japan News that the recent development of new materials has led them to believe that this may already be possible. [CNN, The Japan News]