Ask many people to give examples of geoengineering projects and, sometimes after bridges and dams, you might get mines. Whether open pit or underground, the world’s most extensive mines are among some of the most impressive (if highly functional) engineering projects humanity has ever undertaken. From expensive diamonds to mundane, but possibly more important, commodities such as copper and coal, these mines have given us hundreds of years of vital resources between them.
Bingham Canyon Mine, USA
The single biggest open pit mine in the world, Bingham Canyon in Utah, USA, is nearly a kilometre deep and 2.5 miles, or 4km, across. More than 19 million tonnes of copper have been shipped out of here since it first started operations over 100 years ago in 1906. Before that frontiersmen had been staking claims to small patches of land in the area and digging for copper ore, from as early as 1863. However it was not until early 20th century industrial pioneers decided to bring railroads into the region that mining here really took off.
Today Bingham Canyon Mine is owned by Rio Tinto Group, a $90 billion multinational corporation who have headquarters in London and Melbourne, Australia.
Mirn Mine, Russia
This Siberian diamond mine was first discovered in the 1950s and quickly became one of the largest, but also most dangerous, mining operations in the world. Early miners at the Mirn site were treated to horrendously cold conditions. Oil froze inside pipes, vehicle wheels froze into place and the first buildings on the site had to be constructed on stilts, as their warmth caused the permafrost to melt – thus slowly sinking their foundations over time.
Still production got off to a good start, mining 10 million carats (or 2000 kilograms) of diamonds a year over the 1960s and 70s. One of the world’s largest diamonds to this day was found in this mine in the 1980s, and it was interestingly named 26th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Mirn Mine is still open today, as digging resumed in 2009 after an eight year closure.
Chuquicamata Mine, Chile
Chuquicamata Mine in northern Chile is one of the biggest, highest and oldest mines in the world. That’s quite a list! Mostly mined for copper today, British companies also mined the area for brochantite ore back in the late 19th and early 20th century.
In fact, though, Chuquicamata has an even older history than that. Evidence suggests ancient Inca peoples also sought the copper deposits in the area to make farming and hunting equipment around 550 AD. During the 1890s it was also a point of conflict in the Chilean Civil War, and thereafter developed a lewd and bawdy reputation as ‘Wild West’ frontier town of sorts. 120 years later in the modern day, the site is a highly functioning and efficient copper mine that provides 308,000 tonnes of the important metal every year. The mine canyon now stretches nearly three miles in length and is over a mile across at its widest point. It is owned by Codelco, a Chilean state-owned mining company.