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Largest Known Deposits of Precious Metals

Large open pit mine containing vast amounts of precious metals

Precious metals have long helped to shape the global economy in a variety of ways. Some deposits have had a far more significant impact than others. Today, we’re taking a look at some of the most notable precious metal deposits in the world that contain gold, silver, platinum, rhodium and palladium and where these metals are found within distinctive geological formations.

Gold: Witwatersrand Basin, South Africa

The Witwatersrand Basin, located in South Africa, is the world’s largest gold reservoir. Since its discovery in 1886 by an Australian prospector named George Harrison, it has produced over 2 billion ounces of gold. The discovery triggered a significant gold rush, drawing thousands of prospectors to the region.

The Witwatersrand Basin’s vast gold reserves make it exceptional, holding an estimated 40% of all the gold ever mined on Earth. But it’s not just the quantity of gold that’s noteworthy. Gold in this region is found within narrow seams of rock called reefs, deep underground. Mining these reefs is a challenging task, but South African miners have successfully extracted considerable quantities over the years. In addition to gold, the basin is also rich in other minerals, including uranium, silver, and pyrite.

Silver: Fresnillo Mine, Mexico

The Fresnillo Silver Mine in Mexico stands as a remarkable feat in the mining industry. As the world’s largest silver mine, it boasts an estimated reserve of over 2 billion ounces of valuable metal. Situated in Zacatecas, the Fresnillo Silver Mine possesses a rich history dating back to its discovery in the 1500s by Spanish explorers who were quick to identify the region’s potential. The mine has been in continuous operation ever since, producing silver and other metals for centuries.

One of the most notable aspects of the Fresnillo Silver Mine is its immense size, spanning approximately 56 square miles, which places it among the largest mining operations globally. Additionally, the quality of silver extracted from the mine is exceptional. The silver at Fresnillo is located within narrow veins of rock running through the earth, often incredibly rich in silver content, making them a prime target for miners. However, the extraction process is far from simple. Miners navigate an intricate network of tunnels and shafts, employing specialized equipment to separate silver from the rock.

Platinum: Bushveld Complex, South Africa

The Bushveld Complex in South Africa stands as a remarkable accomplishment in the mining industry, particularly for platinum enthusiasts. As the largest platinum-producing region globally, it accounts for over 70% of worldwide production, making it a vital platinum deposit with over 90 years of operation.

Platinum in the Bushveld Complex is located within a geological formation known as the Merensky Reef, which spans hundreds of kilometers. This reef is extraordinarily rich in platinum and mining operations in the Bushveld Complex employ some of the most advanced techniques worldwide, utilizing a combination of underground and open-pit methods to extract the precious metal. These intricate processes require specialized equipment and techniques. Platinum is not the only metal found in the Bushveld Complex. The region also holds reserves of other metals, including palladium, rhodium, and chrome.

Rhodium: Stillwater Complex, Montana, USA

The Stillwater Complex in Montana is a distinct geological formation responsible for some of the world’s most notable rhodium discoveries. As the largest known rhodium deposit globally, it holds estimated reserves of over 700,000 ounces. Rhodium, one of the rarest and most valuable metals, ranks among the most expensive precious metals on Earth.

RELATED: Learn About Rhodium’s Various Applications

Rhodium in the Stillwater Complex is found within a unique geological formation called the J-M Reef, incredibly rich in rhodium and other metals like platinum and palladium. It is the only known location where significant amounts of rhodium are found as a primary mineral.

Mining rhodium in the Stillwater Complex is challenging due to the harsh and unpredictable climate of Montana’s mountains. Miners employ a combination of underground and open-pit techniques here as well.

Palladium: Norilsk-Talnakh, Russia

The Norilsk-Talnakh palladium deposit in Russia stands as an awe-inspiring wonder in the mining realm. As the world’s largest (known) palladium deposit, it contributes to over 40% of global production. Despite its remote and challenging location in the Siberian tundra, the miners have successfully extracted vast amounts of palladium thus far.

Palladium in the Norilsk-Talnakh deposit is found within a geological formation known as the Norilsk-Talnakh intrusion. It also contains other metals like nickel, copper, and platinum.

Mining palladium in this deposit presents numerous challenges due to its location in one of the harshest environments on Earth, characterized by long, cold winters and short, mild summers. Miners must confront extreme weather conditions and difficult terrain.

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