Kola Superdeep, the deepest well
Exactly fifty years ago, they began drilling an ultra-deep well on the Kola Peninsula. This ambitious scientific project made it into the Guinness Book of Records as. RIA Novosti, 25.05.2020
MOSCOW, May 24 – RIA Novosti, Vladislav Strekopytov. Exactly fifty years ago they started drilling an ultra-deep well on the Kola Peninsula. This ambitious scientific project made it into the Guinness Book of Records as the “deepest human penetration into the Earth’s crust” – 12,262 meters. Soviet scientists wanted to reach the border between the crust and the mantle. RIA Novosti reports about their success in this subject.In the name of science, a system of ultra-deep wells was created in the early 1960s in the USSR. Kola was the third, so it was given a code SG-3. All in all, fourteen such wells were drilled before the 2000s, and only one of them, Kola, was drilled not for exploration or production purposes, but for purely scientific purposes. RIA Novosti was told about how it was, by Professor Evgeny Kozlovsky, former Minister of Geology of the USSR, Doctor of Technical Sciences, who personally supervised the project: “The Kola Superdeep Well was the result of serious scientific disputes. The decision was preceded by a large meeting of scientists and representatives of the geological industry. We talked about a number of superdeep wells in those geological structures on the territory of the Soviet Union, the depth structure of which had to be clarified. We justified the need for such work”.On the Kola Peninsula, very ancient rocks about three billion years old are coming to the surface. What lies beneath them was especially interesting to find out. Geologists assumed: at a depth of 10-15 kilometers the well would open the Earth’s mantle. Such predictions were given by geophysics.A project of space complexityFirst four years, to a depth of 7263 meters, the sinking was conducted with a serial unit Uralmash-4E, used in oil and gas production. From there, special equipment was required. There were no analogues in the world, because no one ever drilled to such depths, moreover, the country administration ordered to do without foreign assistance as much as possible. They tried not to advertise the project. “It is not an easy task to go as deep as 10-15 kilometers. But we must give credit to scientists from the Academy of Sciences and our leading geological institutes – they acted very sensibly. The first thing they did was to formulate a list of questions which had to be answered. This allowed to come to a constructive understanding of the borehole itself,” explains Yevgeny Kozlovsky, who was the head of the Interdepartmental Scientific Council “Deep Earth Resources Research and Superdeep Drilling” of the USSR State Committee on Science and Technology at the time.As a result, the Uralmash-15000 drilling rig with a depth of 15 thousand meters was developed already a year later. It was an absolute technical innovation – the whole kilometer-long drill string was not rotated, but only the drilling head driven by a turbine. This method was called turbine drilling. All processes except rigging were automated. special high-strength light aluminum alloy drill pipes were made. At great depths conventional steel is not suitable due to risk of drill string failure under its own weight – its weight exceeded 200 tons.In the summer of 1984 the International Geological Congress was held in Moscow, president of which was Evgeny Kozlovsky. From the rostrum of the forum he announced to the whole world about the success of the Kola superdeep well: 12 066 meters were passed. It caused a furor. The Soviet Union was ahead of everyone. The work was declassified, delegates of the congress were taken to the Kola Peninsula, and deep exploration of the subsurface was singled out as a separate branch of geology.
In September 1984, the drilling, stopped for the time of the congress, was continued, but during the first run there was an accident – a five-kilometer string broke off and remained in the well. After seven months of unsuccessful attempts to extract it, the operator had to drill again from a depth of 7,000 meters. The well reached 12 kilometers once again only in 1990. That was when a record was set at 12,262 meters. Then there was another accident and in 1992 the financing was terminated and the project was shut down. The seven thousand meter depth was the fatal point for the SG-3 project. Four times it was restarted from there. And all because scientists had a completely different understanding of the structure of the Earth’s crust when designing the well. Geologists and geophysicists thought that at five-seven kilometers the granites emerging on the Kola Peninsula would be replaced by denser basalts. It turned out not so. Instead of firm and massive rocks came fractured and unstable rocks which periodically crumbled clamping the drill pipe.Basalts were seen neither at seven kilometers, nor at twelve, they were not in the core of Kola well at all. It became clear that the boundaries determined by seismic data do not separate layers of different composition, but rocks with different physical properties.Instead of basalts at depth there were the same granites and gneisses, but with many cracks and low density, which was a complete surprise for multikilometer depth, where the huge pressure seemed to rule out the appearance of open cavities. Moreover, scientists found water in these cracks and pores. And that’s not the only surprise. The Earth’s heatThe heat at depth was found to be much hotter than thought. Near the surface, the temperature growth rate, or, as scientists say, the geothermal coefficient was 11 degrees per kilometer, at a depth of two kilometers – 14, and even deeper – up to 24 degrees per kilometer, although the models predicted a half times lower value. At seven kilometers the temperature in the face was 120 degrees Celsius, and at twelve – already 230! “Under such conditions, the instruments could not work correctly,” says Kozlowski. – That is why special cooling units were needed, which were lowered inside the pipes to cool the space around the wellbore”.Main, but not the only oneIn 1989 the first international program of studying the structure of the Earth with the help of geotravers, or transects – regional geophysical profiles stretched between deep and ultra-deep wells started. In the USSR, the transects connected more than 30 wells located at a distance of three to five thousand kilometers from each other. One of them is the Kola superdeep well. “The penetration of the Kola well, just like any other well, gives only a particular insight into the geological structure. The main result was that we connected the ultra-deep wells with a network of profiles, and this allowed us to automatically record seismic waves from both natural and artificial earthquakes over a vast area, and then use them to clarify the geological structure of the region crossed by the geotraverse and build the actual section,” explains Kozlovsky.It was a fundamentally new approach to studying the deep structure of entire regions, based on the joint use of deep drilling, seismic sounding, and geophysical data. Within a few years, scientists assessed the prospects of subsurface resources nationwide and identified potential ore and oil-and-gas-bearing areas.
This is the most important practical result of drilling on the Kola Peninsula.Second Life? It was expected that after the completion of the project, the Kola Superdeep Well would become a unique natural laboratory for studying deep processes occurring in the Earth’s crust. However, the collapse of the USSR ruined these plans. In 1995 all scientific work was halted for lack of funds, and the well was put on care and maintenance. Gradually, the production complex became unsafe. And now, on the eve of the project’s anniversary, on May 20 this year, the deputy governor of the Murmansk region, Olga Kuznetsova, said that the regional authorities are discussing the possibility of turning the Kola superdeep well into a tourist attraction. Unfortunately, in this case, we can only talk about the place where everything took place, because of the well nothing remains. Even the rusty pipes and drill bits were scrapped long ago.
The howls of sinners and the demon that got out. How the USSR “got to the bottom” of hell
The Kola well in the Murmansk region became world famous not only as the deepest well, but also as the “well to hell”.
Collage © TASS / Semyon Meisterman
At the end of May 1970, drilling began at the Kola Superdeep Well, which after a little over 20 years entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the deepest well in the world. This record has not been broken so far, but it became world famous not only because of its size, but also because in Western countries it became known as “the well to hell. Since the late 80s the well has had its own mythology, which has become widespread around the world.
In the name of science
Unlike most others, the Kola Well was originally created solely for scientific research and was an important image story. Several specialized research institutes were created for research, and articles about drilling and underground research were regularly published in Soviet and Western scientific journals.
Photo © TASS / Semyon Meisterman
Drilling of the well continued for almost a quarter of a century. Work began in 1970, and finally stopped only in 1994 (in fact, active drilling stopped in 1991). During this time, the depth of the well has reached 12,261 meters, making it the deepest in the world. It retains this title to this day. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, funding for the project ceased, and the well was mothballed.
“The Well to Hell”
According to the most popular version of the urban legend, there was an emergency at the mine in 1989. After reaching a depth of about 14 kilometers, the drillers discovered a huge cavity. At this depth the temperature exceeded a thousand degrees Celsius, so it was decided to lower a unique heat-resistant microphone into the hole.
In the name of science
In another variation of the legend, when the microphone that recorded the horrifying sounds stopped working, something – a winged demon from hell, similar to a bat, which soared into the sky in front of dozens of workers and flew away – burst out of the well.
Photo © TASS / Semyon Meisterman
Spreading the legend
This story was first published in a small-circulation Finnish Pentecostal Christian newspaper in late 1989. The authors of the article were generally aware of the Kola Well (information about it was often published in European publications), but they made several mistakes. For example, the well was called the “Siberian Gateway to Hell”, although in reality it was drilled not in Siberia, but in the Murmansk region.
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In addition, the article claimed that the depth of the well reached 14 kilometers, when in fact the drilling was stopped at 12.2 kilometers. In addition, there were no microphones capable of working at such extreme temperatures. And the temperatures themselves were much less extreme. At a depth of 12 kilometers the sensors recorded 220 degrees, but not a thousand. And the permanent head of the works at the well was not mythical Dmitry Azzakov, but well-known Soviet geologist David Huberman.
However, such mistakes and inaccuracies were far from being the main drawback of this fascinating story. The main problem was that the authors of the legend could not provide a record of the “infernal moans,” referring to the fact that it exists, but classified in the USSR.
The lack of any evidence did not embarrass the American Christian broadcaster TBN, which devoted several broadcasts to the story. The Americans referred to the Finnish newspaper as a “respected scientific publication. To understand the scope of the promotion of the legend, it must be said that TBN is the largest religious TV network in the world.
The Finnish original only reported on the recording of the sounds of hell, the demon who escaped from hell appeared much later, already in the early 90s. A parallel legend then emerged in the United States based on this. The action was transferred to Alaska, and the demon who escaped from hell not only disappeared without a trace in the night sky, but also killed several drillers before that.
The story of the Siberian well into hell circulated around the world for several years in various collections of urban legends and feature newspaper columns. The second wave of its popularity came with the advent of the Internet almost a decade later.
In 2002, the host of a regional U.S. radio station received an e-mail from a listener after an airing about the “hellhole. The e-mail reported that his uncle was a passionate researcher of the paranormal and had amassed a huge collection, which included the very same recording of the sounds of hell. According to the author, his relative died recently, but managed to tell that the tape was given to him by a friend who worked as a correspondent for the BBC and he received it from the Russians in the early 1990s.
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The letter was accompanied by an audio recording, which the radio host played on the next show. Its appearance breathed a second life into a slightly forgotten urban legend. It appeared on all the thematic websites, making “Hellhole” one of the most popular urban legends in Western countries. From thematic sites it migrated to the major tabloids, and thanks to that made its way to Russia, where it was not very well known before.
Breakers of legends.
Several works of fiction based on the legend were created, including the film “Horror at 9 Mile Depth”, starring Adrian Paul (known for the TV series “Highlander”).
Still from “Nine Mile Deep Horror” / © Kinopoisk
The story became so popular that it couldn’t help but be of interest to all sorts of legend-busters and paranormal debunkers. They conducted a full-scale detective study, which managed to trace how one of the most popular urban legends of our time originated.
The story was first published in 1989 in a small-circulation Finnish newspaper devoted to mysticism and the paranormal. There was a special section in the paper, in which stories sent in by readers were posted. The stories were not subjected to any kind of verification.
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From that newspaper it ended up in a Finnish Pentecostal Christian publication, also published in small circulation. And after its publication it ended up on American TV. A TBN correspondent stumbled upon it while reading a selection of European Christian publications.
A Norwegian teacher in America saw the story on TV. He was struck by the credulity of Americans and as a joke added to the legend a story about a demon who escaped from hell and a story about Dmitry Azzakov. He sent his additions to TBN, and with the support of a fellow pastor, he also sent a photo of Azzakov (actually, it was a picture of a Norwegian construction worker, cut out of a newspaper).
Enthusiasts even managed to identify the original source of the “infernal cries” from the audio recording. It was an old Italian horror film “Bloody Baron”, from which an unknown joker had cut several sound effects and mixed them into a single recording.