How is Silver Mined?
One of the most prized metallic elements in the world, Silver has been valued for its beauty and usefulness for thousands of years. It is believed that Silver began to be mined around 2500 B.C.E. Silver ranks 66th in natural abundance among elements in the Earth’s crust. To extract the Precious Metal, Silver must be mined from deep deposits, brought to the surface and processed before it can be traded in the market.
How is Silver Mined?
While many technologies exist, Silver is typically mined through a process that uses gravity to break and extract ore from large deposits. The exact method of ore removal used varies by the physical characteristics of the rock surrounding the metal, as well as the unique shape of the deposit. Deposits are often long and cylindrical, which is why they are known as veins. Silver ore can be strong, made up of solid nuggets, but can also be found in the form of flakes within a more substantial deposit of sand, gravel and other minerals.
Silver is often mined alongside Gold, found together in the form of an alloy called electrum. Other elements regularly mined with Silver include argentite, pyrargyrite and cerargyrite, the latter sometimes known as Horn Silver. Silver also occurs alongside lead, copper and zinc ores, which is why nearly 50 percent of mined Silver today is obtained when processing other kinds of ore. Silver is separated from this ore using a chemical process known as smelting.
To begin a new Silver mine, a system of multi-layered crosscuts are made. Each cut connects to a central shaft but are kept at a safe vertical distance to avoid collapses. Openings called raises are dug to connect each level. These openings divide the body of ore into blocks. At this point, the Silver mine is ready to begin extraction. Most often, the ore is removed starting at the bottom and working up one layer at a time in a method called overhand stoping. Mines include a network of tunnels and chambers designed to safely raise the pulverized ore up and out in mine cars.
Where is Silver Mined?
Peru, Poland, Norway, Canada and the U.S. are world leaders in Silver mining, with Mexico serving as the country with the largest annual production. The oldest Silver mines still in operation are located in Peru and Norway. Silver is also mined in Bolivia. In Europe, practically all Silver mined is extracted in the form of lead sulfide ore, also known as Galena. Down under in Queensland, Australia, the Cannington mine is one of the world’s largest in terms of reserves. In North America, there are very few mines that extract Silver alone; most U.S. mines primarily dig for zinc, lead and copper. Within the U.S., states that lead in Silver mining are Arizona, Montana, Nevada and Idaho.
Silver Mining Today
During the 1970s, the mining industry began to develop methods of deep-sea mining. This technology extracts nodules from the floor of the Pacific Ocean rich with copper, manganese, nickel and Silver, in addition to a variety of other metallic elements. While this technology is promising, traditional methods of mining are still more common.
Advancements in mining are a critical component of Silver market news. Mining costs, employee safety, acquisitions and new deposit discoveries all have an impact on valuation within the Silver market. While the mining sector may not be front page news in your local newspaper, investors and industry insiders pay very close attention, because seemingly subtle changes can have a profound impact on prices.