Japan Wants To Drill Into The Earth’s Mantle Through The Ocean Floor

First Posted: Apr 11, 2017 06:00 AM EDT

Japanese scientists have recently announced a plan to drill into the Earth’s mantle and reach it for the first time through the ocean floor. Japan's Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) aims to drill through 6 kilometers of oceanic crust. Researchers from JAMSTEC will conduct a preliminary study in the waters off the coast of Hawaii in September as preparatory steps for the plan.

Estimated to cost $540 million, the project will be carried out by flagship Japanese deep sea drilling vessel Chikyu. IFL Science has reported that the research team hopes to start the mission in the early 2020s or at the latest by 2030s. Apart from sites around Hawaii, a site off the coast of Costa Rica and another site off the coast of Mexico are also being considered for the project. Incidentally, only deep sea floor sites are being taken into consideration because the oceanic crust is a lot more thinner than the continental crust.

According to a Huffington Post report, the project has been part funded by the government of Japan as a step to refine earthquake prediction. “In Japan we have some volcanoes, earthquakes and such kind of natural hazards,” JAMSTEC researcher Natsue Abe said. “So we need to know the natural system more clearly or precisely we have to observe the Earth more precisely.”

It is thought that Earth’s molten interiors could hold clues that can help predict earthquakes, apart from revealing how the planet formed more than 4 billion years ago. Everything scientists know about the interior of the Earth is learned indirectly through earthquakes. In fact, even the magma from volcanoes does not offer pure samples of the mantle due to being mixed up with molten crust.

Drilling into the Earth’s mantle will provide a unique opportunity to study the mantle’s composition as it actually is. In addition, another objective of the project is to find how deep microbial life can exist inside the Earth.

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