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  • Writer's picturecarbonscapes

A Visit into the Depths of England's Renowned Polyhalite Mine

Gavin Bridge and Magdalena Kuchler ready to go underground
Gavin Bridge and Magdalena Kuchler ready to go underground (Photo: Boulby Mine)

In the picturesque landscape of North Yorkshire, England, lies an entrance to a world few see: Boulby Mine. On June 13, Professor Gavin Bridge (Durham University) and Associate Professor Magdalena Kuchler (NRHU) were granted a rare and unique opportunity to explore what was once a major potash mining operation known for being a significant source of polyhalite and rock salt. This visit offered an insightful glimpse into the industrial prowess and geological wonders beneath the surface. It brought home the inherent uncertainties of working with variable subsurface materials and the role of technological advancements and geological knowledge in managing them. It also emphasised the future-facing and, therefore, the necessarily speculative character of all extractive activity - that is, how mining has to accommodate not only subsurface variability but also uncertainties in markets for its products.

Inside the Boulby mine
Inside the Boulby mine (Photo: Alamy)

Boulby Mine, one of the deepest in Europe, features a vast labyrinth of tunnels and shafts situated 1,100 to 1,400 m (3,600 to 4,600 ft) underground, extending 7 km (4.3 mi) beneath the North Sea. The descent into the mine is an experience in itself. Clad in safety gear, visitors embark on a several-minute elevator ride, descending through layers of rock to reach the mine's working levels. In some areas of the mine, when the resource was extracted, the temperature reached 40°C (104°F). Every worker and visitor was equipped with a large thermos filled with water and ice. It was essential to drink it sustainably, ensuring everyone stayed hydrated and safe in the sweltering conditions.

Polyhalite (Photo: Magdalena Kuchler)

Until the end of the millennium, potash and rock salt were the primary resources extracted at Boulby Mine. Since 2010, the mine has become a significant source of polyhalite, derived from a rock layer deposited 260 million years ago. Polyhalite is a multi-nutrient fertiliser containing potassium, magnesium, calcium, and sulphur. These nutrients are essential for plant growth, making polyhalite an effective and environmentally friendly fertiliser.

The visit to the Boulby Mine is a stark reminder of the immense scale and depth of the subterranean world and sheds light on the intricate processes involved in extracting the Earth's hidden treasures and the importance of these resources in our modern world.

We would like to express our gratitude to Boulby Mine for the opportunity to visit!



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