Loneliness, Darkness and Miners, Oh My!

Mponeng Gold Mine
Mponeng Gold Mine, South Africa (GNU Free Documentation License)

If you think quarantining in your house for a month or two is bad, just wait till you hear how miners live each day, especially in the very deep ones such as the Mponeng gold mine near Johannesburg South Africa, which is the world’s deepest mine.

Is it Worth it?

The Mponeng mine only needs to extract a minimum of 0.35 ounces from a ton of rock to be profitable, but that is certainly attainable because they pull out over 6,000 tons of rock per day.

How Deep is the Mponeng Mine?

Well, in order to grasp just how deep this mine is, as well as how to manage working there, and in the cases of illegal miners – living there, let’s take an imaginary ride to the bottom of the mine; however, let us remember that this might be imaginary for us, but definitely real for them!

Jumping on the next elevator (called a cage) to descend from the surface,  we take the lengthy ride 1.6 miles down where you will reach a connection to a second elevator that will take you down further.

Don’t expect the place to look like a hotel lobby when you get there. Instead, you will be greeted with a huge array of tunnels with a diameter of about five or six feet in all directions and stretches for hundreds of miles. Yes, ‘hundreds’! 236 miles to be exact. That is more extensive than the New York City subway system. So if you don’t mind trudging through this dare, dreary area to get your gold, go for it, but you might want to still reconsider because there is an additional factor – temperatures in these caves can reach as high as 140º F. 

Why are the Temperatures So High?

You descended almost three miles down through the earth’s crust and the closer to the earth’s core you go, the higher the temperatures will be. Not to worry though because there are sophisticated cooling systems that will keep your body from going into dehydration and maybe sudden death. 

What are These Cooling Systems? 

6,000 tons of ice per day is pumped down to cool the tunnels, along with giant fans that blow the air over the ice which subsequently reduces the temperature to a nice 85º, but you will need to bring one of those tanning lamps (not recommended) because that’s the only way you will be able to get a suntan, if you have the time to do so.

Within these small rock layered tunnels, these are the temperatures that these miners are faced with; however, there are other miners who face even worse conditions. These people are hired by international criminal organizations to dig out gold from these same mines. Called ghost miners, they sneak into the mines (actually the bribed guards look the other way) and live down there for months on end.

Don’t expect them to get caught as they will blend into the miles of tunnels where it is almost impossible to locate them, but if they do get caught, they have the firepower to push the ‘mining police’ back with their AK-47s and bottle grenades.

Ghost miners might not know each other, but they have their allegiances and help out each other when they can with food and supplies, which undoubtedly helps to keep them from going insane.

Bacteria in the Mponeng Gold Mine

So you thought that all living organisms need the sun to nourish. Wrong. Deep in the Mponeng mine, scientists found Candidatus Desulforudis audaxviator, otherwise known to the general public as bacteria. These tiny creatures have never seen the sun. They live independently from all other organisms and can be considered a single-species ecosystem.

How Does This Bacteria Live in This Harsh Environment?

Water does find its way from above through cracks in the rocks and they acquire nourishment from the breakdown of organic matter. D. audaxviator, which is the common denominator for this family of microbes have been living down there for millions of years.

How Would One Get a Job as a Mponeng miner?

Hold on! We suggest not to quit your day job so fast, but if you insist and don’t mind the dark, dreary, hot conditions to get your hands on a few ounces of gold (if you are successful), here are the job offerings

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