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The Mohorovičić Discontinuity:
A Short Story

Kola Peninsula, Soviet Union, 24 November 1979

…two, one… cameras are rolling, comrade.

Tonight, excitement is mounting at the Kola Ultradeep Borehole. Scientists calculate the world’s deepest mine is now over thirty-two kilometres into the Baltic continental crust. We are reporting live from the site at a classified location north of the Arctic Circle in the Murmansk Oblast.

Behind me, we can see the drill site itself – windswept and surrounded with dark mounds of waste rock. At the centre of the basin is the drilling rig itself, the size of a twenty-storey building.

The long polar night means constant darkness beyond the floodlights that illuminate the drill site. This evening the sight is made more spectacular by the overarching aurora of the Northern Lights.

The constant sound is the grumbling of the turbodrill. Ever-turning, it drives the radionuclide tipped Uralmash-20000 series penetrator onwards. Now it is drilling through two-billion-year-old basalt bedrock thirty-two kilometres below the surface of the earth.

The project remains on target to drill deeper than ever before into the Earth’s crust. Three supporting boreholes, SG-One to SG-Three, are complete. Now the central and deepest, SG-Four, is at a reported depth of thirty thousand two hundred and sixty-two metres. The penetrator is officially the deepest artificial point on Earth and is still drilling downwards.

Capitalist attempts to compete with the Ultradeep Borehole have already been eclipsed. The old world depth record, held by the Bertha Rogers hole in Oklahoma was smashed two years ago. Now the team feel their ultimate goal is in sight: the Mohorovičić Discontinuity, the boundary between Earth’s crust and the plasticised rock of the mantle.

In the mantle, the rock is at a temperature of between 500 to 900°C. Engineers remain confident that the new ultra-temperature-resistant penetrators will continue to function as the turbodrill breaches the Mohorovičić Discontinuity.

The Uralmash-series penetrators themselves have had to be upgraded to cope with increasing temperatures several times. The latest is the Uralmash-20000, which includes full video and audio recording. Images enable troubleshooting of any problems with the penetrator. The cameras are also enabling the scientists attached to the project to make fascinating discoveries about deep-crust rocks.

Doom-mongers remain convinced that penetrating the Mohorovičić Discontinuity will destabilise the Earth’s crust. Some even believe super-heated magma will force its way to the surface creating a volcano. We are privileged to discuss these and other questions with director Maksimilian Alkaev. Comrade director, how do you respond to predictions of catastrophe?

This is preposterous scaremongering. There is no danger. Failsafe procedures are ready to prevent any surge from the borehole.

Perhaps, comrade director, you could explain what these procedures involve?

Of course. The penetrator itself is as inaccessible thirty kilometres below the surface as it would be on the moon. However, the monitoring will enable us to detect any sign of a magma surge. If that happens, SG-One to SG-Three will release thousands of tonnes of concrete, sealing the main borehole kilometres below the surface.

Can you tell the viewers something of the triumph of Soviet science and engineering that the penetrator represents, comrade director?

We have a top class team of drilling experts, engineers, geologists, geophysicists. The challenge of an ultradeep borehole requires innovation and invention of new techniques and devices. We have created many new tools here in our workshops. Elsewhere in Soviet industry other specialists have been of great help. Fractures, cavities, the temperature, the video feed have all required unprecedented techniques.

Excellent. And now, as we approach the Mohorovičić Discontinuity, perhaps we can see the penetrator in action, comrade director?

Are you getting this?

Yes, comrade, tape is running.

We are now in the drill control room itself. It is reminiscent of mission control at Baikonur Cosmodrome. The main screen shows the feed from the penetrator head. Here we can see the glow of the radionuclide tip as it slices through the rock. The sound of the functioning drill is well known and any change notifies the engineers of a problem.

What was that? Get a shot of that.

Unfortunately, there is a malfunction. On the screen there was an erratic spinning image, followed by a burst of static. Now we have lost the video feed from the penetrator.

The director is addressing the staff, it is a great day. Comrades, we have reached the Mohorovičić Discontinuity! We are honoured to be recording live at the exact moment that the Ultradeep Borehole has reached its goal!

Now the scientific team is clustered around the display screen. They seem concerned.

Get closer. What is happening?

The director has ordered the drill chief to dump the emergency core fill. Temperature sensors are showed a dramatic increase in temperature. The temperature and pressure are still within operable levels the drill chief has reported.

That is not the problem. The director is wide-eyed and shouting. The director pushes the drill chief to one side and presses a button.

That’s… what is that? Did we get it? It sounds like thousands of people screaming in pain.

Is it the penetrator malfunctioning, comrade?

I don’t know. Keep rolling. I’ll ask. Get this on tape.

Comrade engineer, what was that sound? It… it sounded like the audio feed from the penetrator. Was that the audio feed? What was it? Just as the director slammed the emergency cut off. It was a voice. What? It said something… it sounded… That isn’t possible. It sounded like a human voice. What did it say? What language was that? Are you sure?

Stop the tape. No. We’ll reshoot it. Stop the bloody tape!

…two, one… cameras are rolling, comrade.

We are reporting live from a classified location north of the Arctic Circle in the Murmansk Oblast. In a display of socialist superiority the Kola Ultradeep Borehole today reached the Mohorovičić Discontinuity. After taking measurements the borehole was filled for safety reasons. No unusual events occurred and the project is now complete. There are no further plans to… to…

…to disturb the Mohorovičić Discontinuity, comrade.

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