Why is China digging a massive hole six miles deep into the Earth's crust?

A team of Chinese scientists has started work drilling a six-mile deep hole in the Earth’s crust, digging down to rocks dating back 145million years.

The project aims to learn more about the planet’s internal structure and test underground drilling techniques while searching for new oil and gas deposits in the country’s Xinjiang region.

At its deepest – 10,000m – the shaft will drill through ten layers of Earth, reaching the cretaceous system, laid down at a time when dinosaurs ruled and temperate rainforests grew close to the poles.

Speaking to Xinhua News Agency, PetroChina’s Lyu Xiaogang said: ‘Drilling the borehole has two purposes – for scientific exploration and for finding oil and gas. Through drilling this borehole, we will strengthen [our] technology reserve for ultra-deep drilling, and build more ultra-deep drilling equipment.’

According to Xinhua News, the equipment used will weigh more than 2,000tonnes altogether.

Sun Jinsheng, a scientist at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said: ‘The construction difficulty of the drilling project can be compared to a big truck driving on two thin steel cables.’

The drilling of China’s first borehole over 10,000 meters deep for scientific exploration began on Tuesday in the Tarim Basin, northwest China’s Xinjiang. #GLOBALink

A statement by state-owned oil refiner Sinopec said the goal is to complete the borehole in 100 days, drilling through an ‘underground Mount Everest’ – although the world’s tallest mountain is around 1,000m shorter than the depth of the hole.

A translation read: ‘Sinopec aims to launch ultra-deep exploration projects and push the limits of depth through innovation-driven development of deep marine geological theory and exploration technologies.’

The project is part of a long-term goal set out by President Xi Jinping in 2021. Addressing the nation’s leading scientist, he called for greater exploration in deep space, the deep sea, deep Earth and deep blue – meaning computer science.

However, if completed, the hole still won’t be the world’s deepest. That title is claimed by the Russian Kola Superdeep Borehole, at 12,262m. Completed in 1989, it took 20 years of drilling.

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