How Deep Is the Mir Mine, the Second Largest Man-made Pit in the World?
In the freezing cold of Siberia, in the middle of nowhere, lies the small town of Mirny, which exists for just one reason, the Mir Diamond Mine. It is one of the largest man-made holes in the entire world. Mind-bending to look at, this quarry is even visible from space. A black and dangerous abyss of nothingness, the pit has been the source of ten million carats of diamonds in the 1960s.
So, what lies beneath? Let us go deep down and dig up the amazing story of the Mir Mine, the second largest man-made pit in the world.
How was the Mir Mine discovered and built?
After WWII, the economy of the Soviet Union was in ruins. They badly needed money to rebuild the country. In 1955, a team of geologists started looking for Kimberlite fragments and other minerals that can hint at the presence of diamonds. Finally, Soviet geologists Yuri Khabardin, Ekaterina Elagina, and Viktor Avdeenko found success around 5,000 miles east of Moscow in cold-hearted eastern Siberia. This discovery was such a huge deal that Khabardin was awarded the prestigious Lenin Prize.
But the inhospitable freezing temperatures of Siberia made it difficult for workers to dig. At least seven months a year, the ground was covered in permafrost. Winters were hard. The workers used jet engines to thaw and dig out the frost and then used dynamite to blast through and get access to the kimberlite. Every night after work, they covered the entire mine to prevent machinery from freezing. Summers were difficult too, when slightly warmer temperatures made everything slushy and wet, equally treacherous for construction. But despite these challenges, this Herculean task was completed, and the mine was operational in three years.
The Mir Diamond Mine is the second largest man-made pit in the world.
After completion, the Mir Mine was the fourth deepest in the world, with a depth of 1,722 feet and over half a mile wide (3,900 ft), making it the second largest excavated hole in the world. The mine started operations in 1960, and Mirny became the epicenter of the Russian diamond mining industry. This open pit diamond mine became the largest diamond-producing mine in the Soviet Union. In the 1960s, the Mir Mine produced around 4,400 lbs. of diamonds every year, and 20% of these were high-quality gems. The largest diamond found in the Mir Mine was named “26th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union,” and it weighed 342.5 carats. Today, the diamond is on display in the Russian Diamond Fund (Moscow Kremlin). It has never been put up for sale.
Almost all 40,000 residents of Mirny work for the diamond mining company.
If you take an aerial view of the town of Mirny, it looks unreal. It looks as if the entire city is waiting to be sucked up by the huge gaping hole in the ground. But residents of Mirny are used to living around the diamond quarry. It is a “monotown,” where nearly everyone works for “Alrosa,” the diamond mining company in charge of the Mir Mine now. Alrosa does not release the number of Mirny residents that work for them, but in 2011, the BBC estimated that around 70% of the population worked for the mine. This man-made pit is, after all, the reason why this town sprung into existence.
The mine produced $13 billion worth of diamonds, making DeBeers suspicious.
De Beers, the famous diamond mining and trading company headquartered in London had most of its mines in South Africa. They had the sole monopoly and controlled 80-85% of diamond distribution in the world. The diamonds produced in the Mir Mine were also purchased entirely by De Beers diamonds. By then, De Beers had tapped into the market in the United States with their highly successful marketing tagline, “Diamonds are forever.” They feared that if they didn’t buy all the diamonds, Russia would put the rest on the open market, and De Beers would lose control over the diamond prices. But compared to the size of the Mir mine, their diamond production was disproportionately huge. As per experts, production should usually become less with time. But Mir mine kept producing more. The diamonds were all of uniform size and shape, dubbed “Silver Bears.” – and they kept coming.
In 1970, De Beers got a little suspicious and requested the Mir Mine be investigated. Russia stalled around for six years. When the investigation was finally approved and officials reached Russia, the authorities created further unnecessary delays. As a result, when they had permission to go into the mine, their visas expired. De Beers officials had just 20 minutes to investigate and could not shed any light on Mir’s incessant diamond production. It remained a mystery.
It is said that helicopters can get sucked into the hole due to a downward airflow. Is this a myth or fact?
If you search the Mir Mine on the Internet, there is a common anecdote about helicopters being sucked into the pit because of the influx in the air current, but there are no reports of confirmed accidents that have occurred because of the reason mentioned. Could that be a possibility? As per an expert, if a hole is deep enough, the air inside will be warm, causing warm air to rise and cold air to sink. Therefore, the helicopters flying over the pit can lose lift, as warm air is less dense than cool air. Due to the sudden temperature change, if the pilot loses enough lift and hits the cold air below, it may get slammed and fall inside the hole before it gets the time to recover and manage to rescue the machine from the loss of lift.
So, yes, helicopters can fall into the pit, but they will not be sucked in. Mirny has an airport that is 4 km east of the mining town.
Is Mir Mine still active?
The operations in the open pit mine continued for 44 years and stopped in 2001. Experts had anticipated that finding diamonds through surface mining is not a long-term solution. Therefore, since 1970, tunnels were already being built for underground mining, and by 1999 it became an underground mine. The open pit mine closed finally in 2004 after a flood, but production had already halted in 2001.
After the fall of the USSR in 1991, the Sakha Diamond Company took over the operations. It was extremely lucrative, and annual profits increased by $600 million from diamond sales alone. Later, Alrosa, the largest diamond mining company in Russia, took over the Mir Mine and continues to own it today. In 2009, they recommissioned the mine, and it is expected to continue production for 50 years more. In 2017, mining was stopped due to a flooding accident in which eight workers died and more than 100 were trapped.
Did you know that in 2010, a Russian company called Ab Elise shared plans to redevelop this abandoned open-pit into a solar-powered domed city of the future that can house 10,000 residents? Though this project is more of a concept than a reality right now, we can wonder how an ultramodern city like that would look – straight out of a sci-fi movie!
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