Despite momentous advances in science and technology in the last several decades, less than 0.4-percent of Earth’s total mass has been explored so far. All that is about to change, thanks to an international team of scientists that will attempt to drill into our planet’s mantle in the hopes of discovering important information about its composition as well as formation. The findings, the researchers believe, could also pave the way for more efficient techniques to predict and prevent earthquakes.
This ambitious project will be the first time that humans gain direct access to the Earth’s interior. Sandwiched between the crust and the incredibly hot core, the mantle is believed to constitute approximately 84-percent of the planet’s total mass. Speaking about this layer, located nearly 10 km (6 mi) below the ocean floor, Natsue Abe of the Japanese Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology said:
We don’t know the exact (composition) of the mantle yet. We have only seen some mantle materials — the rock is very beautiful, it’s kind of a yellowish green… In Japan we have some volcanoes, earthquakes and such kind of natural hazards. People (want to create) some monitoring or analysis equipment, but we don’t know what kind of factor to use. So we need to know the natural system more clearly or precisely. We have to observe the Earth more precisely.
For the project, which will be partially funded by the Japanese government, researchers have three potential locations for drilling sites. According to the group, all of them are situated in the Pacific Ocean and will offer plenty of room for the Chikyu to do its job. As explained by the scientists, the actual task of cutting into the Earth’s mantle will be undertaken by the Chikyu, one of the world’s most powerful and advanced drilling vessels. Abe added:
One is off Hawaii — we’re going to survey there — another one is off Costa Rica, (and) the last one is off Mexico… [The Chikyu] is the biggest drilling ship of our science area, so the drilling capability is three times longer, or deeper, than the previous (vessels).
To reach the ocean floor, the Chikyu will have to make its way through more than 4 km (or 2.5 mi) of ocean water. Following that, the contraption will slowly bore through 6 km (around 3.7 mi) of the crust, before reaching the upper mantle layer. If everything goes according to plan, the actual drilling will commence as early as 2030. Abe went on to state:
We already drilled and have taken some samples from the ocean floor but (only) from the top. (We want) to dig from the ocean floor to the deep pristine mantle.
In addition to learning about the mantle’s composition and how our planet’s interior was actually formed, the project will help scientists determine the maximum depths at which microbial life exists inside the Earth. The team was reported saying:
(What is) the limit of the life inside the Earth? The second aim is we want to investigate the boundary between the oceanic crust and the mantle. The third one is we want to know how the oceanic crust formed… If we dig into the mantle, we will know the whole Earth history, that’s our motivation to search.