Down to Earth

Down to Earth

What is our time? How do we measure it?

From the utopian Soviet project to live rationally with nature, to contemporary earth observation: human efforts to plan their environment rely on different forms and technologies of measurement, that negotiate increasingly complex relations with the dynamics of the earth.

The planetary strata are here measured along a trajectory that links remote sensing satellites, a vast geological repository, and a probe reaching the deepest point on the planet at 12 262 meters. Each measurement shapes new territorial assemblages of science and politics. The Kola Superdeep Borehole in the Russian Arctic was a mission to increase geophysical knowledge. It is here shown with contemporary inquiries into the core samples of the British Geological Survey, revealing the connections of human activities to the material traces of the recent history of the earth, searching for the new stratigraphic evidence of the Anthropocene.

Research Team

Anthropocene Observatory:

  • Armin Linke
  • Territorial Agency (John Palmesino, Ann-Sofi Rönnskog)
  • Anselm Franke

Team "Down to Earth"

  • Giulia Bruno
  • Saverio Cantoni
  • Tom Fox
  • Anselm Franke
  • Armin Linke
  • John Palmesino
  • Flavio Pescatori
  • Sarah Poppel
  • Renato Rinaldi
  • Ann-Sofi Rönnskog

 

#3 Down to Earth (single screen online version)

The Kola Peninsula

The Kola Superdeep Borehole is a vertical probe into the Baltic Shield, the largest area of the oldest rocks in Europe, eroded by the harsh climate. At its highest latitudes, well beyond the Arctic Circle, the Baltic Shield meets the Barents Shield, forming the Kola Peninsula, one of the richest areas of the planet in terms of mineral resources.

Exploitation of the vast mineral resources of the peninsula is the basis through which the Soviet Union developed their industrialisation project. It was through tight connections of development of scientific knowledge of geophysics of the region, and technology to develop industry, that the Soviets shaped their territorial architectures.

Dr David M. Guberman, the leader of the Kola Superdeep Borehole experiment, standing on the site of the future Kola SG-3 well. Courtesy Ivanovic Vladimir Khmelinsky, private archive.

Dr David M. Guberman, the leader of the Kola Superdeep Borehole experiment, standing on the site of the future Kola SG-3 well. Courtesy Ivanovic Vladimir Khmelinsky, private archive.

Noosphere

Driven by the large Soviet experiment to live rationally with nature, the territories of the Kola Peninsula have been invested by a large-scale plan to populate the Arctic and to establish the scientific base for the industrial exploitation of its resources.

The Kola Peninsula was one of the sites of a new experiment for a scientific sovereignty, one that reshaped connections between human actions and natural processes. The links between the biosphere, the atmosphere and the geosphere are here extended to the noosphere; the space of human thought conceptualised in the 1920s by Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky. Vernadsky was the leader of KEPS – the commission for the study of natural productive forces of Russia.

Vernadsky and his colleague Aleksandr Evgenievich Fersman, who established the Kola Science Center – were the founders of the Russian school of geochemistry. Fersman was responsible for the programme to survey 20 million km2 of Soviet territory for mineral resources.

Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky, originator of the noosphere concept (left) with Alexander Yevgenyevich Fersman, founder of Kola Science Centre (right). Courtesy Kola Science Centre.

Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky, originator of the noosphere concept (left) with Alexander Yevgenyevich Fersman, founder of Kola Science Centre (right). Courtesy Kola Science Centre.

La Biosphère, 1929 by Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky

La Biosphère, 1929 by Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky

The Deepest Point on the Planet

The Norilsk Nickel mine in Zapolyarny, Murmansk Oblast, Kola Peninsula, Russia, at 69°23’47.27” N, 30°36’35.53” E, in the European Arctic, is the site of the Kola Superdeep Borehole. It was a major scientific experiment carried out by the Soviet Union, with the aim of drilling as far as possible into the Earth’s crust.

Drilling started on May 24, 1970 from the Uralmash-4E drilling rig, and continued until 1989, when the SG-3 borehole operating from the newer Uralmash-15000 rig reached the deepest point on Earth at 12,262 metres, deeper than the 10,915 metres of the Mariana Trench.

Aim of the mission was to investigate the Mohorovičić discontinuity, the boundary between the Earth’s crust and the mantle. During the mission, which spanned two decades, major scientific advancements in the understanding of the physics of the Earth were accomplished, leading to a substantial revision of geophysics.

Geophysical Service at Kola SG-3, 1980s. Courtesy Murmansk Regional Museum.

Geophysical Service at Kola SG-3, 1980s. Courtesy Murmansk Regional Museum.

Mineralized breccia phyllites, siltstones and sandstones from the depth of 1,675.5m.Courtesy Ivanovic Vladimir Khmelinsky, private archive.

Mineralized breccia phyllites, siltstones and sandstones from the depth of 1,675.5m. Courtesy Ivanovic Vladimir Khmelinsky, private archive.

Core sample extracted from Kola SG-3, 1980s. Courtesy Ivanovic Vladimir Khmelinsky, private archive.

Core sample extracted from Kola SG-3, 1980s. Courtesy Ivanovic Vladimir Khmelinsky, private archive.

Core sample lifting and extracting at Kola SG-3, 1980s. Courtesy Ivanovic Vladimir Khmelinsky, private archive.

Core sample lifting and extracting at Kola SG-3, 1980s. Courtesy Ivanovic Vladimir Khmelinsky, private archive.

Digital Elevation Model

This black and white image is formed through data derived by spaceborne synthetic aperture radar: SAR. This geodetic method is used to generate models of surface deformation or digital elevation.

The interferometric SAR method uses complex algorithms to produce a very narrow effective beam. The information on minute topographic variations can be produced only by moving sensors – as the satellites – and is a form of active remote sensing. The satellites’ antennas transmit radar radiations which are then reflected back by the surface of the Earth and detected by sophisticated sensors.

InSAR Synthetic Aperture Radar interferometric map of terrain variation, Kola Peninsula. Elevation data is processed from raw C-band radar signals spaced at intervals of 1 arc-second (approximately 30 metres) at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory JPL. Black lines refer to area of void or missing data, areas where initial algorithmic processing did not meet quality standards.USGS and NASA data, elaborated by Territorial Agency.

InSAR Synthetic Aperture Radar interferometric map of terrain variation, Kola Peninsula. Elevation data is processed from raw C-band radar signals spaced at intervals of 1 arc-second (approximately 30 metres) at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory JPL. Black lines refer to area of void or missing data, areas where initial algorithmic processing did not meet quality standards.USGS and NASA data, elaborated by Territorial Agency.

Landsat

The Landsat programme is the largest repository of Earth Observation data in history. Launched in 1972, its several satellites have recorded the radiations of the planet to document, survey and measure global environmental change.

Multiple sensors detect the physical and chemical qualities of the atmosphere and surface of the planet. The resulting data can be analysed and presented as an image. Detected through multispectral sensors, the images are the result of algo- rithmic operations on data. They can be approximations of the colours perceived by humans, or analytical images of multiple passes of the satellites, highlighting specific aspects of environmental change.

Satellite image of the Kola Superdeep Borehole site. Landsat 8 data acquired on 11 October 2013, shown in natural col- ours using the Operational Land Imager OLI spectral bands 4, 3 and 2. USGS data, elaborated by Territorial Agency.

Satellite image of the Kola Superdeep Borehole site. Landsat 8 data acquired on 11 October 2013, shown in natural col- ours using the Operational Land Imager OLI spectral bands 4, 3 and 2. USGS data, elaborated by Territorial Agency.

A multi-year analysis reveals vast changes in the impervious sur- faces of the terrain, largely coinciding with mining activities, mili- tary equipment and infrastructure, and urban settlements. Multispectral analysis of USGS data, elaborated by Territorial Agency.

A multi-year analysis reveals vast changes in the impervious sur- faces of the terrain, largely coinciding with mining activities, mili- tary equipment and infrastructure, and urban settlements. Multispectral analysis of USGS data, elaborated by Territorial Agency.

Space Race

The vast experiments undertaken to observe the geological workings of the Earth were mirrored in the Space Race: Americans and Soviets were simultaneously trying to reach the minerals of the Moon and the deepest points on Earth. While it was the USA that first touched ground on the Moon, the Kola Superdeep Borehole outpaced the American attempts to reach deep down into the Earth’s crust and the high-technology involved allowed for a striking series of scientific accomplishments.

The north-eastern extension of the Baltic Shield – the Kola Peninsula was the Cold War border, the point where the Iron Curtain and the Early Warning System for intercontinental ballistic missiles scanning the Arctic met. It was a territory marked by escalation strategies and second-strike retaliation analysis.

A border divided in military, economic and political terms, yet linked by a common rationale based on calculus, simulation and the closed system of scientific technological development.

Control room, Kola SG-3, 1980s. Courtesy Ivanovic Vladimir Khmelinsky, private archive.

Control room, Kola SG-3, 1980s. Courtesy Ivanovic Vladimir Khmelinsky, private archive.

Preparation of equipment for inclinometer (measurement of bore- hole inclination/deviation), 1980s. Courtesy Murmansk Regional Museum.

Preparation of equipment for inclinometer (measurement of bore- hole inclination/deviation), 1980s. Courtesy Murmansk Regional Museum.

Geophysical Laboratory at Kola SG-3, 1980s. Courtesy Murmansk Regional Museum.

Geophysical Laboratory at Kola SG-3, 1980s. Courtesy Murmansk Regional Museum.

Earth Observation

Add Content hereThe coevolution of the Space Race and the quest to reach the deepest point of the planet traces a vertical space of measurement, sensing and modelling. It is a space operated through a ‘vast machine’ of sensors and computers of climate change science and integrated system analysis.

Remote sensing satellites orbit the planet and record the intensity of radiation reflected by the atmosphere and the surface of land, ice, and oceans, measuring stations are scattered on the waters of the oceans, seismic surveying stations are deployed across the globe. Information about physical, chemical and biological systems is measured by remote sensors and collected, stored, distributed and analysed.

Earth Observation systems form a vast global archive of data used to assess, monitor and intervene into the dynamics and transformation of the planet. The Earth System, they contribute to analyse, is shaped by the algorithmic procedures of modelling as much as by the technological frameworks of measurement and surveying.

Chief Geologist M.G. Rusanov (sitting) at the Geological Depart- ment, Kola SG-3, 1980s. Courtesy Murmansk Regional Museum.

Chief Geologist M.G. Rusanov (sitting) at the Geological Depart- ment, Kola SG-3, 1980s. Courtesy Murmansk Regional Museum.

Stratigraphic Evidence

The National Geological Repository at Keyworth in England operates one of the largest scientific resources on geology. Part of the British Geological Survey, it forms one of the largest collections of borehole cores, cuttings, samples, specimens and subsurface information from the landmass and the continental shelf of the UK.

It originates in the Museum of Economic Geology, and its follower the Museum of Practical Geology, enterprises set up to link the rising industrial revolution in Britain with the development of scientific knowledge and new forms of government and imperial sovereignty.

Today, many members of the Anthropocene Working Group of the International Stratigraphic Commission, operating at the repository, inquire into the material forms and traces of human actions. They investigate the afterlives, the unequal durations, ages and rhythms of the industrial attempts to form direct connections between scientific knowledge and an intensified nature.

Museum of Practical Geology, London in 1851. Courtesy British Geological Survey Archives.

Museum of Practical Geology, London in 1851. Courtesy British Geological Survey Archives.

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