Huge Holes in the Earth: Open-Pit Mines Seen From Space

People have become significant earth movers, outpacing all sources of natural erosion. More and more of our footprint can be seen from space in many forms, including cities, reservoirs, agriculture and deforestation. Among the most impressive human scars on the planet are open-pit mines.

We’ve gathered some of the biggest, most spectacular and interesting mines, as captured by astronauts and satellites on the following pages.

Above: Berkeley Pit, Butte, Montana

This former copper mine operated between 1955 and 1982. Gold and silver were also mined. An elaborate system of pumps and drains kept the local water level low enough for mining. Today, the 1,780 foot-deep pit is filled with around 900 feet of very contaminated water filled with metals and chemicals such as arsenic, cadmium, pyrite, zinc, copper and sulfuric acid. The water can be as acidic as battery acid, and copper can actually be “mined” directly from the water.

Currently, the 1-mile-by-0.5-mile pit is listed as a federal Superfund site with the potential to contaminate surrounding ground water, and, surprisingly, is also a tourist attraction, complete with gift shop and $2 admission fee.

This photograph was taken Aug. 2, 2006, by astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

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