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Lesson47 Through the earth’s crust
Satellites orbiting round the earth have provided scientists with a vast amount of information about conditions in outer space. By comparison, relatively little is known about the internal structure of the earth. It has proved easier to go up than to go down. The deepest hole ever to be
bored on land went down 25,340 feet– considerably less than the height of Mount Everest. Drilling a hole under the sea has proved to be even more difficult. The deepest hole bored under sea has been about 20,000 feet. Until recently, scientists have been unable to devise a drill which would be capable of cutting through hard rock at great depths. This problem has now been solved. Scientists have developed a method which sounds surprisingly simple. A new drill which is being tested at Leona Valley Ranch in Texas is driven by a turbine engine which is propelled by liquid mud pumped into it from the surface. As the diamond tip of the drill revolves, it is lubricated by mud. Scientists have been amazed to find that it can cut through the hardest rock with great ease. The drill has been designed to bore through the earth to a depth of 35,000 feet. It will enable scientists to obtain samples of the mysterious layer which lies immediately below the earth’s crust. This layer is known as the Mohorovicic Discontinuity, but is commonly referred to as ‘the Moho’.
Before it is possible to drill this deep hole, scientists will have to overcome a number of problems. Geological tests will be carried out to find the point at which the earth’s crust is thinnest. The three possible sites which are being considered are all at sea: two in the Atlantic Ocean and one in the Pacific. Once they have determinded on a site, they will have to erect a drilling vessel which will
not be swept away by ocean currents. The vessel will consist of an immense platform which will rise to 70 feet above the water. It will be supported by six hollow columns which will descend to a depth of 60 feet below the ocean surface where they will be fixed to a huge float. A tall steel tower rising to a height of nearly 200 feet will rest on the platform. The drill will be stored in the tower
and will have to be lowered through about 15,000 feet of water before operations can begin. Within the tower, there will be a laboratory, living accommodation and a helicopter landing station. Keeping the platform in position at sea will give rise to further problems. To do this, scientists will have to devise methods using radar and underwater television. If, during the operations the drill has to be withdrawn, it must be possible to re-insert it. Great care will therefore have to be taken to keep the platform steady and make it strong enough to withstand hurricanes. If the project is successful, scientists will not only learn a great deal about the earth, but possibly about the nature of the universe itself.