Mining has brought humans to some of the most extreme environments on the planet. As commodity prices rise, companies are pushing forward into regions that were previously considered to remote, dangerous, or extreme to be profitable. In this post we’ll take a look at some of the most extreme mines on Earth.
Highest (map) – Aucanquilcha Sulfur Mine
The world’s highest mine, which operated until 1993, is located near the summit of Volcan Aucanquilcha, a 6,188 meter peak located in extreme northern Chile. The mine produced sulfur as well as ornamental stones. The mine was serviced by the world’s highest drivable road (it has since fallen into disrepair).
Northernmost (map) – Gruve 7 Mine
The Gruve 7 mine is located on the island of Spitsbergen near the islands only town, Longyearbyen. At 78 degrees north, the underground coal mine is only about 1,300 km from the north pole. During summer, daylight lasts for 24 hours, while the winter brings continuous darkness and extreme temperatures. About 80,000 tons of coal, destined for European markets, is mined each year by 350 employees.
Southernmost (map) – Pecket Mine
Surprisingly, given the low price of coal, the world’s southernmost mine is also a coal mine. The open pit Pecket mine is located in southern Chile at a latitude of 71 degrees south. Production from the mine began in 1988 and continues today.
Lowest (map) – Dead Sea Works
The dead sea works, located at 427 meters below sea level, produces potash, magnesium chloride, and sodium chloride. It may be debatable whether or not this is a true mine, since the minerals are deposited by evaporation, but whatever your opinion, the works themselves are impressive. The mine is the world’s 4th largest producer of salts, and its evaporation ponds cover almost 100 square kilometers.
Deepest (map) – TauTona Mine
The TauTona mine is a gold mine located in northeastern South Africa. At a depth of almost 4 kilometers, it is the deepest mine in the world. The geothermal gradient in the region keeps the rock face at the bottom of the mine at a temperature of 60 degrees Celsius, but a cooling system keeps the air at a (somewhat) more comfortable 28 degrees. The journey from the surface to the rock face can take over an hour each way. Although the mine has been productive since 1957, it is projected to close sometime in 2015 at current gold prices.