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  5. The Kola superdeep borehole – have the Russians dug into hell? Facts and myths surrounding the SG-3 well

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21.08.2022 02:35

The Kola superdeep borehole – have the Russians dug into hell? Facts and myths surrounding the SG-3 well

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We are fascinated by what is the greatest, and one of such is the deepest borehole. And yet there is something about it that has made it loud for a long time. It wasn’t technology or an unexpected result of scientific research that made it happen. What was it about? Is the SG-3 well the deepest hole in the ground?

Circle drilling – what is it exactly? The Russians checked how deep you can dig

The round, the deepest hole in the ground, with a diameter equal to the length of an adult’s foot, kept some astrophysicists awake at night and was a great tool of Soviet propaganda. The circular borehole, for a long time the deepest unnatural hole in the Earth, is one of the most visited tourist destinations on the map of Russia.

Created not for mining but for scientific purposes, to enrich knowledge about the structure of the Earth’s lithosphere, underground seismic activities and – as rumor has it – to dig into the gates of hell.

kola borehole
Place of drilling, 2007 / Source: wikipedia.org

Although it was certainly not the goal of Russian scientists, the name of the “road to hell” stuck to the SG-3 well. Additionally, for decades, it held the record for the deepest well drilled by mankind.

When drilling more than 12 kilometers deep, huge amounts of rock samples were excavated. In-depth knowledge of the research conducted there has not been made available to a public, international forum. Although the SG-3 certainly still has its secrets, some information has reached the public. Many myths and beliefs spread on a global scale have also arisen around it.

The drilling work began on May 24, 1970, and the super-deep circular well stopped being drilled in the 1990s. The end of scientific research was caused by the inability to further excavate the rocks at high temperatures, the collapse of the USSR itself, as well as insufficient funding.

According to the original assumptions, it was supposed to reach a depth of 15 km. It turned out that already at a depth of 12,262 meters conditions prevail that will not allow digging much deeper holes in this place. This is the final depth of the drilled hole.

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More than 12 km, drilled with our own resources, with many breaks in work and repeated returns to carrying out research tasks. On the Kola Peninsula, very close to the Arctic Circle at latitude, where the thickness of the lithosphere should be the smallest. On June 6, 1979, the US drilling depth record was broken and the 12 kilometer mark was exceeded. It was made possible by the favorable structure of the Earth’s interior in this place and favorable geological conditions.

A little earlier, at a depth of 4 km , biological material in the form of unicellular organisms was found. In total, more than 20 species similar to them were excavated. At the seventh kilometer, a liquid mineral material was found. The water was found to be stuck due to the displacement of tectonic plates.

After another break in the drilling work and the team returned to work, the cable broke and got stuck in the hole. It has not been possible to bring it to the surface. The team was forced to carry out the drilling work by a different route, from a much shallower depth. Resumed drilling made it possible to break the hole depth record and reach 12,262 meters. The record was set in the 1990s and work was stopped at this stage. At that time, it was the deepest borehole on the entire planet.

Is the wheel bore a gateway to hell?

In the years when work on SG-3 was started, it was almost impossible to cross the 3-kilometer-deep limit. All the more, the progress made by the Russians in this field deserves recognition. How did an ambitious science project develop into opening the gates of hell? There was a joke behind everything.

In 1989, the Christian TBN station, which announced that Russian scientists had dug into Hell. It was supposed to be an open cavern where, after sending probes, equipment and microphones, the sounds of suffering coming from dozens of human throats were recorded. The temperature sensors were to record results well in excess of 1000 degrees Celsius.

The news reached the mainstream media on April Fool’s Day, but no one was eager to take it as a joke, or at least no one intended to deny it. After hearing the news so eagerly disseminated, the jokers decided to go one step further.

Pastor and teacher, in the following order: American Kich Kuykendall and Norwegian Aege Rendalen came up with a plan that temporarily turned up the atmosphere even more. They sent a letter to TBN informing them of the incredible, horrifying phenomena and events that were reportedly observed on the Kola Peninsula at the site of the drilling work. 

kola borehole
This is what the drilling site looks like today / Source: thesun.co.uk

Using an authentic Norwegian newspaper article and a flawed translation of it, they wanted to prove that the devil himself had been seen there with the wings of a bat floating in the fluorescent light emanating from the SG-3 orifice. 

The men introduced themselves as employees of one of the Norwegian ministries who must act quietly due to alleged threats from both the Soviet Union and…Norway, whose authorities wanted to cover up the case. This triggered a spiral of theories and alleged presumptions that surprised everyone, including the jokers.

The men later denied their words, proving that it was a very good joke, but only a joke. Most of the stations that fell for it apologized to viewers for giving false information. TBN did not do it, and none of the journalists there were eager to check the information received by the letter and verify it. Interestingly, the station allegedly did not even ask for a translation of the article from Norwegian.

Related: What is the mass of Earth? How was the weight of our planet calculated?

Myths around the SG-3 well.

There are many of them. A lot of jokes are the aftermath of the famous April 1, 1989, but the SG-3 well and its legend is still doing well. Even now, in the second decade of the 21st century, it is still loud on many websites.

Oil was recently added to the fire by Elon Musk. He declared on Twitter that he would like to buy SG-3, and then, using the technique that his company has: BoringCompany, drill through the Earth. 

Does his plan include the construction of a futuristic elevator that runs through the center of the Earth and connects different continents with each other? The biggest hole in the world could be used for this. Just like in Total Recall directed by Len Wiseman, who willingly started working on a remake of the film of the same title. In the original, the main role was played by Arnold Schwarzenegger himself. There, however, the elevator led to Mars, and not through the core of our planet.

Many picked up on Musk’s idea and April Fools joke. The Russians would love to see a visionary investing in their territory. BoringCompany, one of Elon Musk’s “children”, will rather not quickly implement this futuristic project. The deepest place on Earth will have to wait for another, slightly less witty investor.

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soviet postage stamp
A kola borehole on a Soviet postage stamp

Superdeep Kola Bore – What Conditions Are 12 km Below the Surface?

The thickness of the continental crust at the site of the SG-3 well is estimated at 35 km. The temperature at this location was expected to be much lower. The mistake was evident when a temperature nearly twice as high was encountered of the predicted 100 degrees Celsius. At 190 degrees Celsius, it was made impossible to drill the hole with the Uralmash-15000 drill bit. The one that replaced the original after it got stuck in the hole.

The well – has anyone broken the depth record?

SG-3 was the deepest well in nearly 3 decades. It was not until 2008 that this record was broken when the drilling of one of the Arabian oil wells, called Al Shaheen, with a depth of 12,289 meters, was completed.

In later years, these records were broken again. This was done by the Sakhalin-1 consortium, which drilled 5 record boreholes over the decade. The boreholes were designed to extract crude oil and natural gas. The last of them was made from the Orlan platform in the Sea of ​​Okhotsk, and its depth is as much as 15 thousand meters.

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