Off the coast of Costa Rica, an attempt to drill into an unexplored frontier

March 28, 2011

Scientists are pondering whether Costa Rica might be the best destination for a journey to the Earth’s mantle. Geologists want to obtain the deepest rock samples ever obtained below the Earth’s surface right off the coast of Costa Rica.

“That has been a long-term ambition of earth scientists,” geologist Damon Teagle told National Geographic News.

Teagle said getting rock samples from below the planet’s crust would be the equivalent in importance as observing samples taken from the moon. However, technology and funding has hampered this endeavor.

Teagle wrote in the latest issue of the journal Nature that technological advances and better knowledge of the Earth’s surface could make obtaining mantle samples easier. If all goes as plan, drilling could begin by 2020. An exploratory drilling mission will begin in Costa Rica this summer.

The Earth’s volume and mass mainly comes from the mantle, which begins at the bottom of the crust and goes to the Earth’s core – a distance of 1,800 miles down.

A mantle sample would provide many details about the Earth’s origins and history. In addition, it would provide better understanding about plate tectonics. The samples would give researchers insight into natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions.

Off Costa Rica’s Pacific coast could be one of the ideal spots for drilling since it’s where Earth’s crust is thinnest, only about 2.5 miles thick. Other options considered for drilling include the ocean surface near Baja California in Mexico and Hawaii.

Teagle said drilling there’s little danger in these types of drilling experiments.

“There is a risk of failure in that the hole could collapse,” he told National Geographic. “But there is no perceived environmental risk.”

The last attempt to drill into the mantle occurred in 1961 off of Baja California, Mexico. It failed when the project ran out of funds.

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