The boom times of iron ore mining in northern Minnesota are long gone, but mining operations continue and are even expanding, as seen in these Landsat images.
The Mesabi Range, which stretches 80–100 miles from Grand Rapids to Babbitt, contributed about 60% of the total iron ore output in the United States throughout most of the 20th century. The soft ore was close to the surface, and it could be scooped from open-pit mines and shipped by rail to Lake Superior and eventually to steel mills.
Iron ore production peaked in the 1940s when more than 600,000 tons were shipped during World War II. Production remained high in the postwar years and then declined. The high-grade ore was soon nearly depleted. Mining activity on the Mesabi Range now involves digging out lower grade ore for processing.
The iron ore open-pit mines on the Range are among the biggest in the world. But the footprints of the mines’ tailings ponds are even bigger. Both are readily visible in these Landsat images.
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