Indian Ocean Expedition Attempts to Reach Earth’s Mantle but Falls Short for Now

February 1, 2016 Updated: February 1, 2016

A new expedition to try to reach the Earth’s mantle fell short in phase one, but scientists are excited about the crust material they’ve gathered. 

“They’ve gotten closer than they’ve ever gotten before, and already they’ve brought up the largest piece of crust material, so they’re learning more about the crust,” said Jeffrey Kluger, Time magazine’s editor-at-large, who has been following the expedition.

The new expedition got 2300 feet (0.43 miles) down, but the mantle doesn’t start until 1.6 miles down. 


Tomo Morishita, of Japan, examines gabbro under a magnifier.

A photo posted by JOIDES Resolution (@joides_resolution) on

The mantle is 85 percent of the Earth, but it’s hard to reach. 

A 1961 expedition to the mantle stopped due to funding and technical issues.

“If you get into a deep enough part of the ocean, where the crust is thin enough, you can actually sort of get a head start, and drill down into an area of the Earth where you get pristine samples that haven’t seen light since the earliest days of the solar system,” Kluger told CBS.

Co-team leader, Cardiff University Proffessor Chris MacLeod, acknowledged before the expedition that it would likely take several years to reach the crust.

“In total, we think it will take three expeditions,” he told BBC. “The science is approved and we have funding for this initial two-month investigation. But we will need to come back and we may not complete the task until the 2020s.”

Reaching the deep-Earth frontiers “is one of the great scientific endeavors of the century,” Henry Dick, a geophysicist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts and co-leader of the expedition, told Nature.

The hypothetical successful hole “would be the window into things we have never seen before,” added Benoît Ildefonse, a geologist at the University of Montpellier in France.

The initial 47-day research expedition drilled into the igneous rock on the floor of the ocean that forms when magma is trapped beneath Earth’s surface and cools slowly.


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