Salt is used in abundance throughout the world. Whether it’s adding it as a seasoning to our meals or spreading it on the roads during icy months, the world is in real need of salt. Luckily, Earth is very rich in salt. There are many extraction methods and through time, they have evolved and made it easier for us to extract salt. Extraction is much cheaper and with a higher productivity rate than it was before. Additionally, we have perfected it so much that we’re controlling underground carbon emissions.
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Between 2018 and 2019, salt production from major countries grew by more than 7,000 (in 1,000 metric tons). These are the top 3 countries with the most extracted salt in 2019 (numbers are in thousand metric tons):
- China – 63,603.93
- United States – 42,655.00
- India – 19,248.00
Salt can be used for weed-killers, gritting, water softening, cleaning, skin products, chemical production, and more. Some rock salt is edible, however, the impurities from it need to be removed first. Predictions were made for an acceleration of the global salt market shows that it will grow fast until 2023.
Salt Mines and Mining Salt
The name of a ‘salt mine’ is self-explanatory: they are mines from which salt is extracted. The salt which is extracted from these mines is usually in halite form, which is known as rock salt.
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There are two types of extraction or mining work done in the salt mines.
One method is called deep-shaft mining. This method uses shafts that sink to the bottom of the mine. Open spaces called ‘rooms’ are made from drilling, cutting, and blasting through the shafts. Pillars are left out to support the ceiling which creates the shafts in a checkerboard pattern. Salt is then extracted from the mine using machinery.
Solution mining is another method that uses constructing wells over salt domes. Using tectonic pressure, salt deposits that are forced from the Earth are being collected using injections of water. The salt is dissolved in this water and creates a solution called brine. This brine is moved to a plant before it evaporates where the remaining salt is dried and refined.
The depths of salt mines can vary between each other and so do the temperatures. The deeper the mine, the colder the temperature. The average temperature in these mines is 70° F or 21° C.
Biggest Salt Mines
These are the 10 biggest salt mines in the world:
- Cathedral of Salt in Colombia
- Asse Salt Mine in Germany
- Maras Salt Mine in Peru
- Danakil Salt Pan in Ethiopia
- Palibelo Village in Indonesia
- Wieliczka Salt Mine in Poland
- Atacama Salt Flat in Chile
- Prahova Salt Mine in Romania
- Khewra Salt Mines in Pakistan
- Sifto Salt Mines in Ontario
Some mines allow commercial tours and those are located in: Salzburg in Austria, Bavaria in Germany, Krakow and Wieliczka in Poland
Wieliczka Salt Mine
The Wieliczka salt mine, located in Poland near Krakow, is the most magnificent salt mine out of all of them. Even though it’s the 5th largest salt mine in the world, it’s the number 1 masterpiece.
This mine was opened in the 13th century or the Middle Ages where it was known as the Great Salt (Magnum Sal). Its deepest point reaches 1072 ft which contains the last out of 9 levels. Aside from salt, it contains about 2,000 chambers, underground lakes, and chapels with giant chandeliers. Everything inside the salt mine is made out of – surprise – salt. Because of its unique design and pretty features, it was listed in the UNESCO World Heritage List and became a major tourist attraction in Poland.
During the 13th century, this was the largest source of salt in Poland which was vital for its economy. About 300-350 miners were working in the salt mine at the time with 7-8 tons of produced salt per year. Some miners are still working even today protecting the historic areas. They help with managing fresh leaks of water and maintain the areas. More than 2 million visitors come to this tourist attraction per year so more renovation and maintaining in the mine’s chambers, shafts, and corridors are needed constantly.
Out of the entire salt mine, only 2% is open for tourists. The open part contains corridors that form a labyrinth stretching to almost 500 feet in length. So, imagine just how big this underground structure is.