View Full Version : Mine-working / being underground atmosphere

09-06-2012, 04:34 PM
I have a story that involves working in mines. I am lacking facts on atmosphere. Tastes, smells, dirt, water.

I would appreciate anything that gives me a better feel for what it's like to be underground and working in a tightly confined space.

Thanking you in advance.

09-06-2012, 07:01 PM
Much of it will depend heavily on the type of mining - very different for metals mining vs coal, etc.

Also, it will depend on when your story is set. Present day is very different to even 20 years ago.

Can you give some more details?

09-06-2012, 09:02 PM
Sure, it's dwarves mining minerals and ores. And it's the present day going back at least two hundred years.

That really doesn't help does it? Sorry.

09-06-2012, 10:57 PM
Sure, it's dwarves mining minerals and ores. And it's the present day going back at least two hundred years.
I've been in working and closed mines over the years, but I've never been a dwarf... :)

Gold mines and gem mines were always cool to cold, very dark outside the lighting range and dirty, but not dusty (The entrances might have been dusty, but it never seeped down into the mine proper). Most smelled damp or musty, not foul. The two coal mines I've been in were dark, dirty, stale and a bit warm. They were both working mines and dust masks were required just to be able to breathe after the first four minutes. There's also the black lung issue...


09-06-2012, 11:09 PM
Thank you Jeff.

Black lung - yeah, understood, I've read about that - yuk, is the politest thing I can say.

Er, was there insect life?

And are you descending by the winding path type method or in a lift, or is that one of those 'it depends how old your mine is' questions?

09-06-2012, 11:30 PM
Aren't coal mines likeliest to have explosions, due to the methane, and that depends on the type of coal?

09-06-2012, 11:50 PM
Methane (or any other gases) may or may not be present, but coal dust itself is combustible and explosive. Modern coal mines (I wasn't around before the present, sorry) have specific processes to keep the dust, and explosions, at bay.

Lack of oxygen can be an issue in any mine. The old trick of a canary in a coal mine was a response to this. It doesn't need to be explosive or flammable to displace oxygen, gases heavier than air will displace the cool stuff we live on.

In the mines I've been in, structural collapse was the biggest risk. All mines tend to dig out (undermine) the structure holding the planet in place so the risk is related to the earth/rock it's dug in and the shoring used to hold up what's not removed. In abandoned gold and gem mines, this can be rather dicey.

Anyone who has ever been in an abandoned mine during a tremor can tell you the short walk to the surface somehow stretches into a marathon and, no matter how clean your underpants were to begin the day, you're going to have to change them. Or burn them.

FWIW, the abandoned mines I've been in, Colorado Rockies and Black Hills in South Dakota, never extended more than a few hundred feet underground. Quite a few were more like 20 foot tunnels to crawl in. The easy gold and silver deposits were played out in a short distance. When you have to move 50 tons of rock by hammer and chisel, the reward has to be pretty high to make you keep digging.


09-07-2012, 12:58 AM
Visit a mine to get a feel for it. Or lacking mines in your area, what about a natural cave? The kind that are fairly deep and full of bats, and/or stalactites, stalagmites, etc. You'd be able to sink into the atmosphere and experience of yourself the coolness of the air, the near-total silence, the drip of water off the ceilings, etc. State parks often have them, if there are caves in the park, of course; and some are privately-owned. Often the public ones have tours, visitor centers, etc, and some are so deep they use elevators to get to the bottom.

I visited a deep mine in New York state years ago. Fascinating place.

09-07-2012, 01:02 AM
Sure, it's dwarves mining minerals and ores. And it's the present day going back at least two hundred years.

That really doesn't help does it? Sorry.

If you happen to live in or near the north east of England, pay a visit to Beamish Museum (best museum ever) and they have a drift mine there from the 18th/19th century. You'll get a feel of how it was 200 years ago. Dark, dank, dark, dark and not for the claustrophobic.

09-07-2012, 02:46 AM
In contrast to shallow mines, deep shaft mines tend to be hot, owing to the natural thermal gradient within the Earth. The deepest mines in the world are South African gold mines, which are more than two miles deep. Near their lowest points, the rock can be hot enough to give you a minor burn. And the air pressure is about twice that at the surface.

A notable problem in mines (and caves) is carbon dioxide, which is about 1.4X as heavy as oxygen, and can settle and displace O2, causing suffocation. Construction workers have even been suffocated in deep trenches.


09-07-2012, 10:34 AM
There's a series called 'Coal' which is all about coal mining in the states. We watched as bit if it - there were things that actually scared me, like how low the ceilings were etc.

I think there's also a series on gold mining too, I've seen the ads recently, but I can't rememeber what it's called. SOrry.

Forlorn Radiance
09-07-2012, 09:24 PM
My family has been coal mining in Kentucky and West Virginia for over the last hundred years (I broke the tradition). Although, I have never been underground, I know a lot about it because it's the bread and butter of my hometown.

We mine bituminous coal (aka soft coal, which is roughly 80% carbon). Depending on the seams, the opening for the mines can be anywhere from 2 feet to 15 feet depending on where you are at. It's pitch black minus artificial light. Gas explosions are a real possibility but modern technology is helping with preventing those accidents. The deadliest things are black lung and cave ins. I've lost family to both.

Once roof bolts are in place, the mine is general pretty stable, the major issue is when they are blasting open new sections of mines. Black lung is the dust accumulating in your lungs, which lead to many (although far worse) symptoms that you see in smokers.

Miners exiting the mine are covered in soot, head to toe and even if you are not in the mines, if you are not from the area when you drive in, you feel short of breath from the coal dust in the area (although you acclimate in around ten minutes or so). Natives do not notice it. Another thing to note in the area is the coal dust is in the air all the time. When you put your headlights on at night, the dust particles look almost like fog.

I'm not sure exactly what you need for your story, but I've tried to give a brief overview. If you have anything else you need, feel free to let me know here or through PM.

50 Foot Ant
09-10-2012, 07:34 AM
Are you doing the typical dwarf-hold thing, where parts of it are for living and industry, and other parts are for the mining?

Like Gimli said: "And they call it a mine... <snort>"

I've been in some strange places, and I once was in an underground area that went fairly deep into the mountain, and only parts of the cavern system were repurposed, so in some places on the lower levels there were unchanged caves, where only a few caves away there was construction equipment, and not too far up you couldn't even tell it was caves.