18 April 2007

SnowSTAR reported two major highlights today. The first was a guided tour of one of the largest mineral prospecting efforts in the Canadian Barrenlands--the Diavik Diamond Mine. Tonights written dispatch provides pictures and details of this massive mining effort. Following the morning tour, the crew continued east and made 131km progress toward the Thelon River. The second highlight was traveling in the historic footprints of Samuel Hearne--the earliest and perhaps most famous barrenland explorer. Matthew's soundclip tonight acknowledges the respect they have for Hearne as they look out on the same stark landscape he traversed in 1770. We also have our nightly weather report in Spanish. Enjoy.

Soundclip:Click Here for Matthew's Tribute to Hearne

CHUGIAK STUDENTS: Click Here for Weather in Espanol

Diamonds in the Barrenlands

18 April, 2007. Aylmer Lake, NWT

Camp 34 Location: 64º 05'N,   108º 02'W

Distance Today: 131km (81 miles)
Weather: Overcast and Flat Light in AM, Partly Cloudy in Afternoon -9C (+15F)

A Day at Diavik Diamond Mine

Imagine this:  Travel for hundreds of kilometers across the snowy tundra
without seeing any sign (or barely any sign) of human activity, then turn a
corner and find a industrial city with 800 people living in it and mining
diamonds. That is how fanstastic our trip to the Diavik Diamond Mine felt to
us.  We arrived there yesterday about 4:00 PM.  The mine is on an island
that sits in Lac de Gras, one of the larger lakes of the Barrenlands.  Even
from 20 km away, we could see some of the huge buildings of the mine
complex, as well as the smoke stacks of the power plant. As we neared the
mine, we first encounter a drilling rig out on the ice, drilling cores from
one of the kimberlite pipes that sit under the water of the lake (more on
this later).  Next we got lost driving on the maze of ice roads surrounding
the mine area.  Finally we met our hosts, Scott and Karl of the mine's
environmental department.  They made us feel welcome.  We got hot showers
and dinner.  Dozens of buildings, 5 huge fuel tanks, vast dormitories, and
buses, trucks and heavy equipment are what you see everywhere in the mine
complex. The buildings are modern and new.  Inside, they are just like
buildings in any city far to the south.  The food in the cafeteria was as
fine as any restaurant, with fresh fruit and salad.  The rooms we stayed in
had heat and satellite TV.

Today we had a tour of the mine. A short lesson in diamonds:  they are found
in kimberlite pipes.  These are the remains of volcanoes that erupted about
50 million years ago.  The pipes are dark colored rock, often circular in
plan view, about 100 to 500 meters across.  They penetrated up through the
older, tougher granites that make up most of the Barrenlands.  The miners
need to mine the kimberlite, but to do this they have to move a lot of the
granite.  The result is a vast hole in the ground, called an open pit.  In
this case, one that is 150 m deep (almost 500 feet).  The picture we include
shows trucks in the bottom of the pit. These are HUGE trucks, about the size
of 4-story building.   The miners have to move 8 tons of granite for every
ton of kimberlite they mine, and then they have to process the kimberlite.
The net result is just a handful of diamonds.  The miners live all over
Canada. They work at the mine for 2 weeks, then they fly home and have two
weeks off.  That means that every job at the mine has two people to do it.

Because diamonds are so expensive, and so hard to produce, security is tight
at the mine. We didn't get to see any diamonds, nor take any samples
(d a r n!).  Still, it is amazing to see the effort that it takes to get these
precious stones out of the rocks of the Barrenlands. 

Thank you Diavik for a wonderful tour.




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