mirny and aikhal
Mirny and the Mir Mine, via google
The Mirny Diamond Mine, which operated from 1955 through 2004, is one of the world's largest mines. The mine is "'so deep that the surrounding 'air zone... is closed for helicopters' after 'a few accidents when they were 'sucked in' by downward air flow...'" (see bldgblog posts one and two on the mine). It would take a truck two hours to drive from the bottom of the mine to the lip.
The mine while still in operation, via this Russian website
The Mir Mine is the negative image (the excavation) of a geological formation known as a 'kimberlite pipe', instantiated when a deep-origin volcano erupts far below the earth's surface, propelling diamonds and other material at speeds ranging from a merely impressive ten kilometers/hour to a supersonic several hundred kilometers/hour. These volcanic eruptions occur so much deeper than typical volcanos that they do not form large above ground deposits, though they do often create 'tuff rings' surrounding a depression filled with ejaculated material.
The story of the discovery of the Mir Mine (as told in Edward Jay Epstein's The Diamond Invention) is fascinating, with geologists tramping through the taiga along a trail of volcanic bread crumbs and steel tools that become so brittle in the Siberian winter that they snap like matchsticks, ripe for a retelling by a Russian John McPhee (Epstein's account is essentially geopolitical and only incidentially cultural geography):
The search for diamonds focused on the Siberian plateau in Yakutia province that lay between the Lena and Yenisei rivers, which Russian geologists concluded resembled geologically the "shield" of South Africa. Both formations had remained stable for cons of geological time, and neither had been deformed or "folded" by convolutions of the earth. Since kimberlite pipes had been found on the South African shield Russian geologists theorized that they might also exist in this Yakutian shield. The first party of diamond prospectors flew into Yakutia in late 1947. The expedition was ill-prepared for the punishing environment, however, and after suffering astounding privations on the tundra, it had to be abandoned. Moscow ordered the search to be continued, regardless of cost, and the following spring more geologists were flown into the wastelands of Yakutia. They were better equipped, with X-ray diamond detectors and other sophisticated prospecting gear, and they found a few microscopic diamond traces-but no pipe. Finally, in 1953, a young Russian geologist named Larissa Popugaieva, working in her laboratory in Leningrad, noticed that the prospecting samples from Yakutia contained an increasing percentage of tiny blood-red garnets called pyropes. Since she knew such garnets had been found in kimberlite ore formations in southern Africa, she proposed that prospectors, rather than searching for diamonds, follow the trail of the garnets. She then joined the diamond-hunting expedition in Yakutia, and intrepidly tracking the garnets, managed to find their source near the Vilyul River Basin within a matter of months. It was a volcanic pipe mine she named "Thunder Flash." Unfortunately, however, the proportion of diamonds in the ore in Thunder Flash was not high enough for feasible production. Dozens of geologists, all looking for traces of blood-red garnets, then began scrutinizing the banks of the Vilyul River for more volcanic pipes (which the Russians call trubkas). In the spring, of 1955, another young geologist, Yuri Khabardin, came across a fox's hole in a ravine with blue earth. He found that it had high diamond content, and excitedly began sending a message over his shortwave radio. It said cryptically, "I am smoking the pipe of peace." In Moscow, the prearranged code was immediately understood to mean that the geologist had discovered and tested a kimberlite pipe.
Aikhal, via google maps
The Russians soon extended the techniques they developed for mining at Mirny further north, leading to the establishment of a new city, Aikhal -- built on stilts not to protect it from rising water, but from sinking into mud:
By 1960, huge steam shovels were loading the ore into trucks, which had to transport it some twenty miles to a separation plant (the permafrost at the site of the mine could not hold the weight of the plant). More pipes were later discovered on the very edge of the Arctic circle. To service these mines in the "pole of cold," as this region is called by the Russians, the Russians erected an entirely new city, Aikhal. According to the descriptions in Russian periodicals, Aikhal stands, like some giant centipede, on ten-foot-high steel legs. Each of these steel legs is Imbedded into the permafrost to prevent the city from sinking into a quagmire of mud during the summer thaw. Even in winter, when the temperature falls to 80 degrees below zero, giant pumps cool the air beneath the buildings to prevent the heat of the buildings from causing any melting in the permafrost. All the buildings are interconnected by elevated passageways and wrapped in a heavy shroud of translucent plastic. Aikhal is, as one journal puts it, "a completely enclosed working environment."
Aikhal, via panoramio
Images of Aikhal (also Aykhal) are rare on the internet, but it appears that it is more an average Soviet-era settlement (albeit with the buildings indeed on legs) and less the (Lebbeus) Woodsian fever dream of centipedal architecture and ghostly plastic shrouds that Epstein describes, though I am holding out hope that the older, cruder Aikhal did exist in the fashion that Epstein's language suggests and awaits discovery by our hypothetical Russian McPhee in some stack of yellowing, archived photographs.
The tailings ponds1 southwest of the town (well, I assume they are tailings ponds) and the mine itself, though, are as otherworldy as might be expected:
Aikhal tailings pond, via panoramio
Aikhal mine pit, also via panoramio
 As an aside, observe the rather blatant insertions of propoganda (though I should note that I do not know whether the anonymous editor is accurate or not in his claims about scientific arguments) into the wikipedia article on tailings:
"It [Riverine Tailings Disposal] is still practised at some operations in the world, and while experts agree it is a feasible method for locations where the river is rapidly flowing and turbulent and the additional silt loading will not impact on the river quality, it is not generally favored and is seeing a gradual decline in use."
"Many countries specifically outlaw the use of STD [Submarine Tailings Disposal] methods which is based largely on poor politics and rhetoric than scientific arguments."
The battle between ideologies, individuals, and corporations for the control of wikipedia is fascinating.
::Diavik Diamond Mine, on NPR.
::Bingham Pit, Utah, on bldgblog.
::eatingbark on Alan Berger and the remediation of the Pontine Marshes, remediation being an obvious starting point for considering the designed futures of surface mines. Berger is also known for his studies of surface mines in the American West, Reclaiming the American West, and the forthcoming Designing the Reclaimed Landscape, which will surely have tips of use to aspiring mine designers.