Trying to comprehend the scale of open-pit extraction with aerial photographs.
The scale of an open-pit copper mine feels impossible; it is a Bible-grade phenomenon made by machines. Vehicles called bucket-wheel excavators, nearly five times the size of the largest dinosaurs, rip up the surface and gradually descend, piling 200,000 cubic meters or more of rock behind them every day.
Once the copper is extracted, waste products and unrecoverable metals stream out as tailings, snaking tributaries that turn psychedelic-looking as they oxidize in open air for the first time in millions of years. Each excavator, meanwhile, turns the land it is standing on into a ledge and leaves a succession of these steps, or ‘‘benches,’’ behind it as it goes.
The Chino Mine, for example, in Grant County, N.M., has been excavated persistently for more than a century and now stretches almost two miles across and 1,350 feet down. It’s a chasm, a void, a deep and disordered amphitheater built around an abyss. It gets four out of five stars on TripAdvisor.
‘‘Wow is that place HUGE If you get time go visit this mine it is just huge,’’ writes one reviewer who visited the overlook point on the side of Highway 152. ‘‘What a huge pit,’’ says another. Another: ‘‘Wow!’’ Another: ‘‘What a hole in the ground’’ And: ‘‘Dange [sic] it’s deep. What a [email protected]!!!! Huge hole in the ground.’’
Stupefied giddiness, disbelief: these seem to be universal responses to open-pit mines. When the photographer Edward Burtynsky started taking pictures of mining complexes in 1981, it was, in part, out of this same simple wonderment.
‘‘I look for the biggest mines in the world,’’ Burtynsky says, and these photographs, shot in Arizona and New Mexico in 2012 and published here for the first time, include both the Chino and the continent’s largest copper mine, the Morenci Mine, which is projected to produce 900 million pounds of copper every year for the next five years.
For the rest of this article and photos, click here: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/10/25/magazine/25mag-copper.html?_r=0