The Morton Salt Mine is one of the most remarkable places in the world. It is a hidden world that few have had the chance to explore, a world that lies deep beneath the surface of Lake Erie, about 30 miles east of Cleveland in Fairport Harbor, Ohio.
This mine has been exclusively mining for rock salt, most commonly used to melt snow and ice on roads, since 1959. It is a vast site that runs about 3 miles under the lake, with long tunnels lit only by the headlamps of the workers and minimal lights on the ceiling.
The mining process involves drilling the salt deposit’s face with holes, which are then filled with explosives. These explosives are detonated to clear a space filled with salt and rock. The mine operates around the clock each day, with 223 employees coordinating to fulfill a daily average target of 12,000 tons of salt.
To enter the mine, one has to take a 4-minute elevator ride that descends 2,000 feet below the lake. Once inside, one has to go through a series of airlocks that regulate the air pressure. Fresh air from the surface is pumped down the mine shaft to supply oxygen to the miners. Workers are required to wear safety glasses, an emergency air pack that holds an hour’s worth of oxygen, and protective head gear with headlights to help see around the dark area.
Inside the mine, it’s completely “pitch black”. The ceiling of the cleared tunnel is filled with six-foot bolts, long enough to reach the layer of rock above the salt to secure the structural integrity of the newest stretch of the tunnel. Twelve miles of conveyor belts and sorting machinery carry salt and rock from the heart of the mine, and usable salt is transported above ground through a production hoist, to be loaded on a shipping vessel or stored for later use.
The rock salt, which is used to melt snow and ice on roads, is often dyed blue so that it stands out when it’s dispensed on the street. April begins the boat-shipping season, which runs through the end of the year, during which two to three vessels, such as the “Mark Barker”, a 639-foot ship, carries 18,000 to 20,000 tons of salt per shipment. Given the inherent danger an icy winter poses to drivers, it’s no surprise that this local operation runs around the clock each day.
The Morton Salt Mine is a testament to human ingenuity and the incredible natural resources that our planet holds. It’s a fascinating glimpse into an industry that quietly operates beneath our feet, providing a vital resource that keeps our roads safe during the harsh winter months. It is a strange world of long tunnels and cavernous spaces illuminated by headlamps and floodlights, a world that few get to see.
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