The northernmost railway Located on the north side of Baffin…

The northernmost railway

Located on the north side of Baffin Island in the Qikqtani Region of Nunavut Canada, the Mary River Project is one of the most isolated open pit mining sites in the world. Here winter temperatures average at -30 degrees Celsius and between November and January there is a 24-hour darkness. The site contains four iron ore deposits of which no. 1 has a total strike length of4 km, containing no less than 365 million tons of ore with <64% iron (mostly hematite and magnetite). The iron here is so pure that it needs no chemical processing and can be shipped and crushed right away. Supposedly, this has less impact on the environment. Ores are obtained by blasting ‘’12 diameter blast holes. So far more than 200 drill holes have been made over an area of 30km. Around 130,000 tons of ore has been shipped to Europe.

So, why is this area so full of natural resources? The area is part of the so-called Committee Belt extending over 2000 km to northwestern Greenland. The Committee Belt is an assemblage of granite-greenstone, rift basin sediments and volcanic rocks which are firmly folded.

Since the area is so remote there are no roads or railways, all iron is transported by air or the sea (only during the short summer). However, this will change in the coming years, since a railroad is being constructed. The railroad will run for 150km to the Steensby Port facility where the bulk stockpile can be unloaded and shipped. This area was chosen because it remains ice-free most of the year. Thus, this will be the most northern railroad in the world.

There are some concerns however. The railway will have a huge impact on the migrating caribou on Baffin Island. Also, the increase of big ice breaking ships at Steensby Port will affect the living conditions of sea mammals. Another aspect are ancient inuksuk that are found all over this area of Baffin island. Inuksuk are stone markers built by the indigenous population of the area for at least the last 4500 years. They functioned as sacred places, and aid for hunters or for navigation. According to Carleton University Archaeologist Sylvie LeBlanc the area toward Steensby Inlet houses the longest intact navigation system of Inuksuk in the world.


Image: Copyright Randy Boswell. An aerial view of the Mary River Project mine taken on July 17th 2012.


Bukowa Góra quarry This is a sandstone mine in Poland. The…

Bukowa Góra quarry

This is a sandstone mine in Poland. The rocks are Devonian in age, formed just under 400 million years ago. Mountains that are today part of Europe began forming tens of millions of years before this, as small chunks of continents and eventually North America and Africa ran into Europe. The areas of Northern Poland and Germany were uplifted and folded into mountains, and rivers carried sediments to this site in south-central Poland.

As rivers migrated back and forth, they deposited layers of sand and silt in flatlands near the coastline. These rocks are full of trace fossils of organisms, including plant root traces. Eventually, the growth of the mountains slowed and the ocean rose above this location. These rocks are topped in places by limestones – what we call a transgressive sequence. The ocean rose onto the continent, water at this location became deeper, ocean sediments were deposited here, and the near-shore setting retreated towards higher ground.

The rocks have been uplifted somewhat during recent mountain building and now are found in the Polish Holy Cross Mountains.


Image credit:
Mariusz Kędzierski