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Science Technology

Journey Towards The Center of the Earth 185

Posted by Zonk
from the verne-would-have-been-proud dept.
linumax wrote to mention an article detailing an ambitious Japanese-led voyage towards the center of the earth. From the article: "The deep-sea drilling vessel Chikyu made a port call Thursday in Yokohama after ending its first training mission at sea since being built in July at a cost of 500 million dollars. The 57,500-ton Chikyu, which means the Earth in Japanese, is scheduled to embark in September 2007 on a voyage to collect the first samples of the Earth's mantle in human history. The project, led by Japan and the United States with the participation of China and the European Union, seeks clues on primitive organisms that were the forerunners of life and on the tectonic plates that shake the planet's foundations" They also hope to use the information to detect earthquakes more accurately. A 4 page PDF presentation about the Chikyu deep-sea drilling vessel is also available."
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Journey Towards The Center of the Earth

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  • by RDFozz (73761) on Friday December 16, 2005 @07:45PM (#14276839) Journal
    Gee, better be on the lookout for green slime and primords....
  • by TubeSteak (669689) on Friday December 16, 2005 @07:47PM (#14276849) Journal
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/worldlatest/story/0,1280 ,-5484820,00.html [guardian.co.uk]

    Friday December 16, 2005 8:16 PM

    TOKYO (AP) - An undersea earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.2 shook northern Japan early Saturday, but there was no danger of a tsunami, the Meteorological Agency said. There were no immediate reports of damages or injuries.

    The quake occurred shortly after 3:30 a.m. and was centered about 30 miles below the seabed off the coast of Miyagi prefecture, about 180 miles northeast of Tokyo, the agency said.
  • Small fix. (Score:2, Funny)

    by falzer (224563)
    From the PDF:

    > The proposed program OD21 will evolve into, in close collaboration with the current ODP and international partners, a new international program, named as the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP), which will use the "CHIKYU" and a U.S. drilling vessel.

    Small fix: micro-evolve. No transitional "international program" between Ocean Drilling Programs has ever been found.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 16, 2005 @08:00PM (#14276933)
    They say that the Actic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska would be a perfect place to drill through to the mantle, since oil offers so little resistance and simultaniously lubricates the bit. And what harm will come if a bunch of it happens to flow up to the surface by accident?
    • Close. They're going to dig in the ocean, since water's easier to dig through than earth.
    • And what harm will come if a bunch of it happens to flow up to the surface by accident?

      No harm done as long as there are poor mountaineers close-by trying to keep their families fed.
  • by ta ma de (851887)
    That the japanese have decided to put team Zissuo on this. The Belefonte was the perfect choice for a drilling platform. Hopefully no harm will come to the recon dolphins.
  • by FatAssBastard (530195) <{moc.liame} {ta} {dratsabssataf}> on Friday December 16, 2005 @08:06PM (#14276968) Homepage
    The project...seeks clues on primitive organisms that were the forerunners of life...

    Neo-Darwinist heathens! There is only ONE "forerunner" of life on this planet, and that's GOD!

  • I probably would not have run down this rabbit trail expcept for recent news that hints that the world's tallest building may have activated an old fault line.

    Ever see a pop can with a small hole in it? I mean, do they really have a clue what might happen if they provide a channel for deep magma flows to rise? Sure, it's a little sci-fi doomsday scenario, but I'd hate to be the one who signed off on the risk assessment for this project.

    Scientist 1: Hey, Jimmie, remember that movie we saw when we were kids? The one where they go to the center of the earth?

    Scientist 2: Sure, why'dya ask?

    Scientist 1: I got this reasearch grant and I thought we could drill down to see if those giant mushrooms were real.

    Scientest 2: Sure, I'm in.

    • The earth will not pop like a zit. Magma might flow up the narrow channel, but even if it makes it to the surface, it will hit some nice cool ocean water and make a rock plug. Even if I imagine a worst-case scenerio, it would look something like Hawaii or some other volcanic island... there are already plenty of holes in the earth. Although, maybe just to tempt fate they ought to set off a hydrogen bomb down there just to see what happens.
      • actually the worst case scenario is the bore shaft manages to intersect an undersea magma pocket that is already under high pressure, and nearly ready to blow. somthing like that, say the size of yello stone park could erupt with the force of a couple hundred hiroshimas... true there would be a lot of ocean to absorb it, but the long terms effects of something like could be very hard to predict, it could unleash a giant cloud of ash and water vapor that brings a mega snow storm (say 2048" of precipitation o
        • A couple of hundred Hiroshimas would not cause the effects you describe. The Hiroshima blast was equivalent to 15 kilotons of TNT. The 2004 Indonesian tsunami is estimated to have released energy equivalent of 250 megatons of TNT, and it was devastating to only the immediate area's coastline. And again, like I said, the earth's crust will not pop like a zit. If the crust was stable enough to hold back pressure before, then drilling a small hole in it will not undermine it's integrity.
        • actually the worst case scenario is the bore shaft manages to intersect an undersea magma pocket that is already under high pressure, and nearly ready to blow.

          1. Drill through the Earth's crust into a high-pressure magma pocket.
          2. As the magma starts bursting out, install a turbine made of wolfram.
          3. Sell the electricity from the turbine and any minerals the magma might have brought to surface.
          4. Profit.
  • by Neil Blender (555885) <neilblender@gmail.com> on Friday December 16, 2005 @08:11PM (#14276998)
    That drill is going to make about 0.1% of the way.
  • Center of the Earth? (Score:2, Informative)

    by fanblade (863089)
    "on a voyage to collect the first samples of the Earth's mantle in human history"

    Mantle != Core
    • If they want a sample of mantle rock, all they have to do is visit Newfoundland, Canada.

      There's a valley in western Newfoundland where, on east side, the soil is derived from weathered crust material. On the west side, the 'soil' is mantle rock.

      I've driven along a road in the bottom of the valley and the difference is striking! The east side is heavily overgrown. The west side has only a few blades of grass that seem to be growing in tiny pockets containing soil blown across the valley.

      So, no drilling re
  • by AxemRed (755470)
    What will happen if they drill all the way to the mantle? Will the magma harden and plug the hole, or will it turn into a volcano?
    • by pin_gween (870994) on Friday December 16, 2005 @08:23PM (#14277059)
      I thought the Russians had been drilling for a long time. They had reached 40,000 ft [alaska.edu] by 1985

      A major problem they will encounter is the plasticity of rocks as the approach the mantle -- the heat and pressure allows rocks to flow, much like silly putty will ooze. That plasticity make it difficult to maintain an open well for the bit to drill through.

    • by LeadfootCA (622446) on Friday December 16, 2005 @08:24PM (#14277065)
      The mantle is composed primarily of solid rock. From Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]:

      Mantle rock consists of olivines, different pyroxenes and other mafic minerals. Typified by peridotite, dunite, and eclogite, mantle rocks also possesses a higher portion of iron and magnesium and a smaller portion of silicon and aluminium than the crust. In the mantle, temperatures range between 100C at the upper boundary to over 3,500C at the boundary with the core. Although these temperatures far exceed the melting points of the mantle rocks at the surface, particularly in deeper ranges, they are almost exclusively solid. The enormous lithostatic pressure exerted on the mantle prevents them from melting.

  • by PavementPizza (907876) on Friday December 16, 2005 @08:17PM (#14277021)
    ...digging from Japan, it looks like they'll come out off the coast of Uruguay [cjb.net] (cool Google maps hack shows you where you will come out if you dig a hole through the center of the earth from any location).
    • Well, how deep does the territorial sovereignty of Uruguay (or any nation) go? I mean, the core and the mantle are all floating around down there.
    • Wow! I, for one, actually live in Uruguay, so I'll be sure to welcome our new hole-drilling samurai overlords!
    • (cool Google maps hack shows you where you will come out if you dig a hole through the center of the earth from any location).

      Thanks for the google maps hack information. My current hole would have ended up 2 miles off-coast of Sydney, Australia and with me drowning after being shark-bit if it weren't for current technology setting me straight.
      • up 2 miles off-coast of Sydney, Australia and with me drowning after being shark-bit

        When you correct your aim best not to aim for the beach in Sydney, the people there are worse than sharks. They are a bit touchy about immigrants at the moment. The mind boggles to think what they would do to somebody tunneling into one of their beaches.

        • When you correct your aim best not to aim for the beach in Sydney, the people there are worse than sharks. They are a bit touchy about immigrants at the moment. The mind boggles to think what they would do to somebody tunneling into one of their beaches.

          Damn, I was shooting for +1 Subtle as I didn't think many would relate it to Cronulla Beach. Oh well.
  • Hayabusa... (Score:2, Funny)

    by markild (862998)
    Well that was convenient. They can't make their stuff work in space exploring, so they're going for... well.. none-space exploring :P
  • by G4from128k (686170) on Friday December 16, 2005 @08:31PM (#14277101)
    Given the existence of chemosynthetic [wikipedia.org] life at ocean ridge hotspots, I wonder about the potential for life in the mantle. Surely the continuing convection in the mantle and subduction zones provides the potential for non-equilibrium chemical reactions that could be a basis for life. Perhaps some form of complex aluminosilicate [colorado.edu] chains/matrix or semi-crystalline blebs could form the basis for non-carbon-based life. I'm not expecting anything particularly mobile or obvous (a la the silcon-based Horta in Star Trek [hiddenfrontier.com]) but as long as a region supports both solid-phase and liquid-phase complex mixtures, then it seems life isn't impossible. Perhaps xenoliths [wikipedia.org] are the corpolites [emory.edu] or decomposed remnants of something down there.
  • by athomascr (851385)
    >"on a voyage to collect the first samples of the Earth's mantle in human history" That is, the first samples that haven't come to us.
  • by guygee (453727) * on Friday December 16, 2005 @08:36PM (#14277136)

    This may be slightly off-topic. but it seems to me that if we improve drilling technology enough to breach the Earth's Mantle, there lies an almost endless supply of heat energy. According to http://zebu.uoregon.edu/ph162/l18.html [uoregon.edu], the average thermal gradient is 30 degrees C per kilometer, so that at a depth of 20,000 feet, the temperature is 190 degrees C. The problem is that in solids the heat can only be replenished by diffusion, so that steam extraction of heat would occur faster than the heat can be replenished. However, if we could dig deep enough to where heat could be replenished by convection, then the concept of geothermal heat extraction could be feasible.

    Another alternative that may currently be feasible is to detonate small H-bombs in deep cavities to replenish the heat. This, in fact, was already done in the PACER project, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PACER [wikipedia.org]. The major problem in the Pacer project was the reliance of plutonium fission bombs to initiate the fusion reaction, which created problems with radioactive waste. If a "Fusion Fuse" other than fission could be devised, we could dispense with esoteric, far-in-the-future methods of controlling fusion above ground, and simply use deep cavities in the Earth to release heat via uncontrolled fusion reactions, and extract the heat.

    Bottom Line: I am not buying into the "Peak Oil Doomsday Scenario" http://www.lifeaftertheoilcrash.net/Index.html [lifeaftertheoilcrash.net] just yet.

    • Another alternative that may currently be feasible is to detonate small H-bombs in deep cavities to replenish the heat.

      Why not just run some nuke plants? The newer generation of plant could probably run for 1000 years on the available uranium reserves.

      • According to the projections of Uranium reserves on this page, conventional nuclear power won't get us very far: http://www.financialsense.com/fsu/editorials/petc h /2005/0703.html [financialsense.com]

        Also, conventional nuclear fission plants still have the problem of creating highly radioactive waste products with very long half-lifes, so the infrastructure must be very expensive for safety reasons, and there is still the disposal problem

        However,if we ever get past the "pilot plant" stage in designing and building breeder r

        • Also, conventional nuclear fission plants still have the problem of creating highly radioactive waste products with very long half-lifes, so the infrastructure must be very expensive for safety reasons, and there is still the disposal problem

          Some of the designs covered inthe latest SciAm improve efficiency by a factor of 20 and reduce the waste to a 500 year problem (with less hazard in the interim). This is what I base my claims on. It has the advantage that it can easily break down Pu from weapons, whi

  • Those pesky kanji... (Score:2, Informative)

    by gnownaym (705075)
    If anyone's interested, the kanji (Chinese-derived characters) for "chikyuu" are (if this shows up at all):

    (if that didn't work, try this one: http://www5.big.or.jp/~otake/hey/kanji/gifmoji/f5/ chikyuu.gif [big.or.jp])

    where the first one is read "chi", meaning earth (in the dirt sense). The second is read "kyuu" and means "ball".

    So. Welcome to my planet, dirtball.

  • Tinfoil Hat: On

    Okay, who lost the submarine [wikipedia.org] THIS time?

    Tinfoil Hat: Off
  • Dude! After this:

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0202314/ [imdb.com]

    you could be a consultant!

    DG
  • "I presume this will help predict an earthquake, which will be a breakthrough in seismology"

    Predicting earthquakes? A Breakthrough(TM) indeed...

  • (From the Dilbert Future or the Dilbert Principle) I remember reading something along the lines of, "If you drill a hole in the earth, all the gravity would escape!" Better send the Japanese a copy!
  • by pondelik (810658)
    The earth's mantle is hot. I mean really hot.
  • The deep-sea drilling vessel Chikyu...

    I realize I'm going to come off as a petty nitpicker, but couldn't they have done a better job of Romanizing the name of the craft? It needs one more 'u' (I checked the original Japanese). Without the second 'u', it just looks downright wrong to me.

    Incidentally, "chikyuu" means "Earth" in Japanese, which I think is a great name for the craft.
  • If I build a nice house for myself at the center of the Earth, will it have zero-gravity? If so, will it feel the same as being in orbit would (since the gravity of the mass on each side of me would cancel out the gravity on the other side), or would it feel different -- like being the rope at the center of a game of tug-o-war?


    Just curious....

    • If I build a nice house for myself at the center of the Earth, will it have zero-gravity?

      Yes, because all the mass in the earth is pulling in different directions. It cancels out.

      But you will get a hell of a lot of pressure trying to cave your habitat in. I think a large part of the gross density of the earth is caused by pressure squeezing the iron core until its density increases by 20% or so.

    • It depends on the size of your "house" :)

      At the exact centre of the earth you have zero gravity in the sense that the attraction to mass is equal in all directions and cancels out. However if you create a really large "house" let's say with a diameter of a few thousand kilometers you would get (micro-)gravity: welcome to the hollow earth theories.

      Don't ask me exactly how big this "house" would have to be before the gravity of the mass "below" you is significantly greater than the mass "above" you (which is
    • Yes, you would have near zero gravity - all what it would take was putting there some sphere and you'd have microgravity in any place of it, not just in the exact center. From the way the gravity works one can see that insides of any shallow sphere have zero-gravity in practice (but we can't forget that the Earth is not a perfect sphere...)
  • by Max Nugget (581772) on Saturday December 17, 2005 @05:37AM (#14278881)
    Drilling even a small hole that deep into the earth seems like it could cause all sorts of problems. A crack in a hard material tends to permeate outward. If you drill down just a little bit into the earth, cracks will be very limited in how far from the origin point they can spread. As you drill deeper into the earth, though, I imagine the cracks that form back up toward the surface can get further and further from the origin point, and increase in severity as you go up (in addition to the fact that a crack five feet below the surface is relatively inconsequential whereas a crack 50 feet below the surface could be catastrophic.

    I hope they've really thought this through, 'cause to me it sounds sooooo not worth the risk.
  • A significant portion of the heat leaving Earth (which we experience on the surface) originates from radioactive decay deep within. This might shed some light on the origin and, more importantly, the variation of that heat. It would be a shame to be taking measures to reduce global warming by attempting to increase the radiation of heat into space if, at the same time, the heat output from within the Earth is declining on a 10,000 year cycle leading to slightly cooler surface temperatures. Kind of like t

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