The greatest feats of modern excavation.
First would have to be the little known Kola Super Deep Borehole.
This cavernous hole located on the Kola peninsula in Russia stretches to a record breaking 12,262 metres below the Earth’s crust. Preparations for the construction of the bore site began in 1962 by the then USSR’s Interdepartmental Scientific Council for the Study of the Earth’s Interior and Superdeep drilling (ISCSEIS).
These preparations included the securing of a site to begin construction of the specialised drilling machine. By 1970 the machine had been built and the time had come to commence exploration.
The goal proffered by the Russian scientists was to reach the depth of 15,000 metres. However, as is so often the case, human theories rarely match physical reality when investigation is brought to bear.
Russian scientists expected to hit an operational temperature of 100 degrees Celsius as they neared the goal of 15,000 metres. Instead they reached this operating temperature far earlier and had to improve drilling techniques to withstand the 180 degrees Celsius encountered at a 12,000 metres.
A cooled slurry of mud was pumped to the independently rotating drill bit that allowed the drilling to press through the metamorphic rock discovered between 3000 and 6000 metres. Metamorphic rock is endowed with plasticity due to the enormous pressure and heat that permeates it. By the time the digging had reached its nadir the rock was so liquid that no further drilling was possible.
Despite failing to reach its projected length many important discoveries were made and new technologies birthed to create the deepest hole in the world.
Far and Wide
Perhaps the greatest feat of excavation to have ever been completed by Human kind was that of the Panama Canal.
Speculated about since the early 1500’s, the crossing of the Panama peninsula was widely regarded as one of the most important routes to global trade. Spain and Scotland both attempted surveys of the isthmus to facilitate a crossing but the harsh, hot and inhospitable conditions thwarted both these attempts and set a dire foreboding for future efforts.
The French, inspired by the success of the Suez Canal commenced work in 1881. Their team were poorly equipped to deal with the humid tropical conditions and the rampant diseases such as malaria and yellow fever. The hospitals became breeding grounds and home to mosquito infestations. In ten years over 22,000 men died from disease and as victim to accidents such as landslides. That’s six men every single day.
Despite the difficulties encountered they managed to dig a canal of approximately 23,000,000 Cu metres, however a lack of workers and experienced engineers due to the high mortality rates meant that willing labour
slowing to a trickle, this coupled with gross financial mismanagement and corruption resulted in the entire site being sold to the government of the United States of America in 1903 under the guidance of President Theodore Roosevelt.
In the next article in the history of excavation we will continue to look at the completion of the Panama Canal.