Comment: Journey to the mantle of the Earth
This spring, researchers will mark the 50-year anniversary of an ambitious project by taking another step towards the same dream. They aim to drill through Earth’s crust under the ocean floor and down into the mantle and, for the first time ever, pull up a sample. In a Comment in Nature this week, the two co-chief scientists of that upcoming mission — Damon Teagle and Benoît Ildefonse — say that drilling into Earth’s mantle is now possible, and should hopefully begin within a decade.
The mantle makes up the bulk of our planet, stretching from the bottom of the crust — at 30–60 kilometres under the continents but just 6 kilometres under the oceans — down to the core 2,890 kilometres below. Retrieving a sample direct from the mantle would provide scientists with “a treasure trove comparable to the Apollo lunar rocks”, they write, and it would provide insight into the origins and evolution of our planet. But this goal has proven as difficult as going to the Moon: so far no one has drilled deeper than about 2 kilometres into the crust — a third of the way through.
The idea to drill into the mantle was born at a drinking club of notable earth scientists in 1957. ‘Project Mohole’ sailed in 1961. It took the first scientific core from the sea floor, and developed techniques for ocean drilling that are still used by the oil industry today. But it failed at its mission. Over the next few years, scientists will practise their deep drilling and assess three Pacific Ocean sites, looking for the best place to reawaken this dream.
Do I think this is news? Meh, maybe once they actually embark. But is it a great excuse to get you to watch the trailer for The Core? Absolutely:
If you’re wondering, yes, the trailer pretty much sums it all up. But if you haven’t seen, and don’t make a point of seeing, the whole thing, you’ll miss out on the origins of Unobtanium and the notion that the Earth’s core is, indeed, made of cheese.
You’ll also miss out on the potentially prophetic power of the film, which, eight years ago, predicted worldwide weather phenomena of apocalyptic proportions and birds falling from the sky. For all we know, San Fracisco Bay boiling and the Golden Gate Bridge befalling the fate of an ant in a young boy’s back yard might be next. Watching The Core could be our only hope of survival.