Buckeye Beat: Lake Erie’s salt mines

When Old Man Winter rears his icy head, there’s one thing that keeps Ohio from becoming a virtual slip’n’slide…
A natural de-icer, over 17 million tons of rock salt was spread over roads and sidewalks in the United States during the particularly fierce winter of 2015. But where does it all come from?
The answer might surprise you…

Ohio is one of the top exporters of salt in the country…and it’s actually mined right under our noses in places like Cargill’s Whiskey Island Mine. The 12-square-mile mine lies just offshore of downtown Cleveland. Lake Erie is the shallowest of the Great Lakes with a depth of about 56 feet near Cleveland – the salt mine lies about 1800 feet under the lake. A system of conveyor belts and elevators bring the salt to the surface. Left behind are gigantic pillars of salt – these support the weight of the thousands of feet of rock and lake above the mine. Engineers, like Bob, calculate the size and number of pillars needed to keep the mine safe.

But wait. Let’s back up a minute – how did all this salt get here, almost 2000 feet under Lake Erie?
To answer that question, we headed to Cleveland’s Museum of Natural History to talk to expert Harvey Webster.

So, Ohio was tropical – oh yeah, and covered in a shallow sea. And its inhabitants are not the kind of thing you see strolling in downtown Cleveland today.
Eventually, these tropical conditions – and some overgrown coral reeves caused the sea to dry up, leaving the salt behind.

The salt mine looks like another world – and it really is one. It’s the remains of world that existed long before man. But even if you never get down to the mine, you’ll still see pieces of this world scattered on icy roads all winter long.

Instructional Links

Reference Book: The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, Rock Salt


Website Article: Science Alert, 12 Rare Photos That Take You Inside An Amazing Salt Mine Hidden 2,000 Feet Below Lake Erie


Experiment: Science Kiddo, Why Salt Melts Ice


Website Article: Morton Salt, Salt Processing and Production


Website Article: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Winter Outlook predicts warmer, drier South and cooler, wetter North


Website Article: American Meteorological Society, All About Careers in Meteorology


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