The Kola Superdeep Borehole is the result of a scientific drilling project of the Soviet Union in the Pechengsky District, on the Kola Peninsula. The project attempted to drill as deep as possible into the Earth’s crust. Drilling began on 24 May 1970 using the Uralmash-4E, and later the Uralmash-15000 series drilling rig. Boreholes were drilled by branching from a central hole. The deepest, SG-3, reached 12,262 metres (40,230 ft) in 1989 and still is the deepest artificial point on Earth. The borehole is 9 inches (23 cm) in diameter.
In terms of true depth, it is the deepest borehole in the world. For two decades it was also the world’s longest borehole, in terms of measured depth along the well bore, until surpassed in 2008 by the 12,289-metre-long (40,318 ft) Al Shaheen oil well in Qatar, and in 2011 by 12,345-metre-long (40,502 ft) Sakhalin-I Odoptu OP-11 Well (offshore the Russian island Sakhalin.
The main target depth was set at 15,000 m (49,000 ft). On 6 June 1979, the world depth record held by the Bertha Rogers hole in Washita County, Oklahoma, United States, at 9,583 m (31,440 ft) was broken. In 1983, the drill passed 12,000 m (39,000 ft), and drilling was stopped for about a year for numerous scientific and celebratory visits to the site. This idle period may have contributed to a breakdown on 27 September 1984: after drilling to 12,066 m (39,587 ft), a 5,000 m (16,000 ft) section of the drill string twisted off and was left in the hole. Drilling was later restarted from 7,000 m (23,000 ft).
The hole reached 12,262 m (40,230 ft) in 1989. In that year, the hole depth was expected to reach 13,500 m (44,300 ft) by the end of 1990 and 15,000 m (49,000 ft) by 1993. However, because of higher-than-expected temperatures at this depth and location, 180 °C (356 °F) instead of expected 100 °C (212 °F), drilling deeper was deemed unfeasible and the drilling was stopped in 1992. With the projected further increase in temperature with increasing depth, drilling to 15,000 m (49,000 ft) would have meant working at a temperature of 300 °C (570 °F), where the drill bit would no longer work.
The Kola borehole penetrated about a third of the way through the Baltic continental crust, estimated to be around 35 kilometres (22 mi) deep, reaching Archaean rocks at the bottom. The project has been a site of extensive geophysical studies. The stated areas of study were the deep structure of the Baltic Shield; seismic discontinuities and the thermal regime in the Earth’s crust; the physical and chemical composition of the deep crust and the transition from upper to lower crust; lithospheric geophysics; and to create and develop technologies for deep geophysical study.
To scientists, one of the more fascinating findings to emerge from this well is that no transition from granite to basalt was found at the depth of about 7 km (4.3 mi), where the velocity of seismic waves has a discontinuity. Instead the change in the seismic wave velocity is caused by a metamorphic transition in the granite rock. In addition, the rock at that depth had been thoroughly fractured and was saturated with water, which was surprising. This water, unlike surface water, must have come from deep-crust minerals and had been unable to reach the surface because of a layer of impermeable rock.
Another unexpected discovery was a large quantity of hydrogen gas. The mud that flowed out of the hole was described as “boiling” with hydrogen.