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When will human beings finally drill into the Earth’s mantle?

The Earth’s crust is pretty thin—at least when compared with the vastness of the mantle and the core. The crust’s average thickness is about 18 miles. In certain places in the ocean, the Mohorovicic discontinuity—the official boundary between crust and mantle, also known as the “Moho”—lurks just 3 miles below the surface.

Ever since a 1961 drilling expedition launched near Baja California, scientists and engineers have been actively seeking the Moho. Smithsonian Magazine summarizes the mayhem that’s characterized this mission:

some efforts failed due to technical problems; others have fallen prey to various sorts of bad luck—including, as discovered after the fact, picking inopportune spots to drill. Nevertheless, those efforts have shown that the technology and expertise to drill to the mantle exists.

The article also explains why this quest has riveted our attention:

Obtaining a pristine chunk of the mantle is important because it would help planetary scientists better ascertain the raw materials from which Earth accreted when our solar system was young… Its composition would also provide clues about how Earth initially formed and how it evolved into the multi-layered orb we inhabit today.

A new program called the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) has already penetrated around a mile below the sea floor, making it the 3rd deepest hole humans have ever bored under the ocean’s floor, per the National Science Foundation (NSF). This project is “poised to break through to the mantle in coming years.”

Another attempt, the so-called ‘SloMo’ Project, aims to hit the Moho by drilling in the Indian Ocean at Atlantis Bank.

When will we succeed? In what year will some human-led drilling effort finally pierce into the Earth’s mantle?


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