South Africa is home to one of the seven deepest holes ever dug by humans.
We can’t dig to the center of the Earth, but that hasn’t stopped us from trying. Whether explicit efforts to dig through the Earth’s mantle or some of the world’s wildest open-pit mines, humankind has done some serious digging. We explore some of the craziest manmade holes out there through both ice and land.
Kola Superdeep Borehole, Russia
Don’t mind the 23-centimetre diameter. Instead focus on the Kola Superdeep Borehole’s unmatched twelve-kilometre depth. Started in 1970 by Russian scientists on the Kola Peninsula of Russia ultimately became the deepest hole in the world—deeper than even the deepest part of the ocean—after about 20 years of digging and experimentation. The 356 Fahrenheit temperature at that depth, however, made it impossible for tools to keep going. The site has been abandoned since 2008, and the hole bolted shut so nothing can get in.
The Bingham Canyon Mine, United States
Over 100 years old, the world’s largest copper mine includes a four-kilometre-wide pit in the Oquirrh Mountains southwest of Salt Lake City, Utah. Considered the largest man-made excavation, the mine dips nearly 1,2 kilometres down and covers nearly eight square kilometres. First started in 1906, the mine is still open, but that hasn’t kept it from being named a National Historic Landmark with a visitor centre for folks who want to come and gawk.
The Kimberley Diamond Mine, South Africa
Located in South Africa and known as one of the largest hand-made holes in the world, “The Big Hole” actually started as a bit of a hill. With more than 50,000 miners pick-axing their way into the soil starting in 1866, the Kimberley Diamond Mine sunk more than 213 metres and expanded to over 450 metres in width by 1914. More than 2,7 tons of diamond were pulled from what is still, understandably, a tourist destination.
Diavik Diamond Mine, Canada
One of the newer holes on the list, the Diavik Diamond Mine opened in 2003 and has reached deeper than 180 metres in the Canadian Arctic. Located on the East Island in Lac de Gras northeast of Yellowknife, the mine is accessible only by plane—there’s a gravel runway big enough for a Boeing 737—and an ice road. And that’s only if the weather is good enough. The mine yields one-and-a-half tons of diamonds annually amidst the ice.
The Berkeley Pit, United States
Opened in 1955 as a way to mine for copper in Butte, Montana, the Berkeley Pit grew to a depth of 518 metres before it was closed down in 1982. Since that time the pit has filled with over 274 metres worth of groundwater and rainwater. Combined with the heavy metals and chemicals of the prior mining operation, the water has turned highly acidic and measures are taken to keep birds out of the water ever since a 342-bird flock of snow geese died inside the 1,5 kilometre-long, 0,8 kilometre-wide pit in the 1990s.
Mirny Mine, Russia
There are claims that the winds around Siberia’s Mirny Mine sucks unsuspecting helicopters into its 518 metre-deep pit swirl, but even with those rumours aside, the diamond mine that began in 1955 remains fully off limits. Deep enough to hold a 150 story skyscraper inside, Stalin’s diamond mine stretches 1,2 kilometres across and is one of the largest excavated pits in the world. And even though work in the open-pit mine has ceased, Russia still mines underground in the site.
IceCube Neutrino Observatory, Antarctica
Thanks to the University of Wisconsin, the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica has 86 cables that reach beneath the ice, supporting 60 digital optical modules that relay data from the depths to the surface above. And that surface is a long ways away. The modules hang at depths starting at one-and-a-half kilometres all the way down to over two-and-a-half kilometres. It took seven years to drill holes for the cables, done in the Southern Hemisphere’s summer and with a eleven-ton hot water hose that melted roughly 750,000 litres of water per hole.
This article was written by Tim Newcomb and published by Popular Mechanics on 17/01/2017.
Cover Image: Pixabay