It’s no easy feat to drill into the faults that cause earthquakes. Intercepting such active ruptures, which are buried kilometers beneath the surface, requires specialized equipment, skilled crews, and a lot of money and time. There are no shortcuts. Well, maybe there’s one: an express elevator in a South African gold mine that runs 3 kilometers straight into Earth.
This week, scientists were set to begin drilling a 750-meter-deep hole from the bottom of the Moab Khotsong mine, located some 180 kilometers southwest of Johannesburg, South Africa. Three years ago, a magnitude-5.5 earthquake erupted from a previously unknown fault beneath the mine. Aftershocks continue. The $1.6 million project, if successful, could reveal the internal workings of what may be a “fresh” fault: one that has experienced its first earthquake. Unsullied by previous quakes, the fault could yield new insights into how quakes unfold—and how humans can inadvertently trigger them.