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Accueil > Documents > Pages personnelles > ILDEFONSE Benoît > Projet "MoHole To the Mantle" (M2M)

The project Mohole in 1961

A brief presentation of the 1961 Mohole project

Extrait de Teagle & Ildefonse, 2011. Nature, doi:10.1038/471437a

"The first serious plans to drill down to the mantle were concocted in the late 1950s by a handful of post-war American geoscience grandees under the guise of the American Miscellaneous Society — an informal group of US National Academy of Science members, sometimes referred to as a ‘drinking club’. The idea came primarily from Harry Hess, one of the founding fathers of the theory of plate tectonics, and Walter Munk, who pioneered studies of how winds drive ocean currents and explained why one side of the Moon is locked towards Earth. Frustrated by what they saw as a stream of worthy yet pedestrian research proposals in their field, they sought to undertake
something more ambitious and innovative.

At a wine breakfast at Munk’s home in La Jolla, California, on a Saturday morning in April 1957, they came up with Project Mohole, a scheme to drill, for the first time, right through Earth’s crust and into the upper mantle.

Back then the nascent offshore petroleum industry had not yet begun to contemplate deep-water drilling. The Mohole project required the development of new technologies such as dynamic positioning, which would allow a drill ship to keep its position steady. The group obtained funding from the US National Science Foundation and commissioned the best ship available for the job : the drilling barge CUSS 1, named after the oil companies that had developed it, Continental, Union, Shell and Superior. Within four years of the project’s proposal, propellers had been installed on the side of CUSS 1 and a system developed that allowed these to keep the ship in position.

Between March and April 1961 scientists took their first core from the uppermost hard rock of the oceanic crust, or ‘basement’, off Guadalupe Island in the eastern Pacific Ocean, thanks to the daring and innovative engineering efforts of Willard Bascom and his colleagues. From beneath 3800 metres of water and 170 metres of sediment, they pulled up a few metres of basalt, at a cost of US$1.5 million (about $40 million in 2009 dollars, in terms of its share of the total US economy). This remarkable accomplishment was reported in Life magazine (14 April 1961) by the novelist and amateur oceanographer John Steinbeck, who was aboard CUSS 1 during these first operations.

This was the only ocean core that Project Mohole succeeded in drilling. After the expedition, the management of the project changed, some poor decisions were made about which drilling technologies to pursue, and costs spiralled out of control. In 1966, Project Mohole collapsed when the US Congress voted to cancel its funding.

Nevertheless, the project coincided with a growing acceptance of plate-tectonics theory. Interest in the formation and evolution of the oceanic crust was booming. Project Mohole proved that scientific drilling into the ocean basement was possible. This contributed to the establishment, and continuance over four decades and running, of international collaboration in scientific ocean drilling. The Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) and its predecessors, the Deep Sea Drilling Project (DSDP) and the Ocean Drilling Program (ODP), form arguably the most successful, long-term international scientific collaboration in any field."


The first sampling of oceanic basaltic crust achieved by the Cuss 1 team received a personal letter of congratulations from President Kennedy.

Online resources :

- Commemorating the Accomplishments of Project Mohole - 1961-2011. US National Academies web page on Project mohole. This great web page contains many links to documents and publications, including the "Mohole song" !
- The First Deep Ocean Drilling. Film by Willard Bascom (Dr of Project Mohole). Part 1 - Part 2.
- Project Mohole pictures (on Flickr)
- AMSOC and Project Mohole. The older page by the US National Academies
- Project Mohole on Wikipedia, in English, Japanese, and French.
- Life Magazine article by John Steinbeck (April 1961)
- An article about the Kola project