On salt and old timber buildings

In the last post, we took a walk in a cave that water has carved out in the easily solvable mineral anhydrite, a calcium sulphate. Anhydrite is among the minerals we call salts, that form when atoms with a postive charge – a.k.a. cations – combine with negatively charged atoms, a.k.a. anions. Most cations are metals, in this case calcium Ca2+, that combine with a sulphate ion SO42- to the stable salt CaSO4. If you add two water molecules per unit, you get ordinary gypsum.

Salts like anhydrite and gypsum typically form when a sea or bay in a hot, dry climate gets isolated from the rest of the ocean, the water evaporates and is not replaced by supply from rivers or rain. The most famous of these events are the Messinian salinity crisis from 5,96 to 5,5 million years ago, when the Gibraltar strait was closed and the Mediterranean ocean repeatedly nearly dried up and left behind thick layers of salt.

Ordinary salt is, of course, also a salt, NaCl, the combination of the positive cation Na+ and negative anion chlorine, Cl. Salts of various types have different limist for how concentrated they can become before they preciptitate, and therefore lies in fairly nicely stratified layers.

So there is no surprise that there also are salt mines in the Perm area. The town of Solikamsk has long been a centre for salt mining. We went to a smaller place, Khokhlovka, to see an old salt factory built in timber. Here, the miners drilled wells Down to reach the salt layer, pumped hot water through that solved the salt, and then boiled it to refine salt at the surface. These salt works are long time closed down, but the buildings have been taken care of. So, let’s go and look at old buildings!

The pump house: This house stands right above the well that pumps salty brine up from the underground, into the pipe along the wall to the right and down to...

The pump house: This house stands right above the well that pumps salty brine up from the underground, into the pipe along the wall to the right and down to…

...the big destillation house. Note the big chimney at the top - lots of wood was needed to boil the brine.

…the big destillation house. Note the large chimney at the top – lots of wood was needed to boil the brine.

Inside the salt destillation house: These salt pans were heated from below by wood fired ovens. The salt brine ran over and the head evaporated the water, leaving behind a thick salt slush that sunk down to the pans below. Then, it was shoveled up again and again until the water was gone and only salt left, at the expense of many broken backs.

Inside the salt destillation house: These salt pans were heated from below by wood fired ovens. The salt brine ran over and the head evaporated the water, leaving behind a thick salt slush that sunk down to the pans below. Then, it was shoveled up again and again until the water was gone and only salt left, at the expense of many broken backs.

Finally, the salt was transported to the storage building next to the river. The river is frozen large parts of the year, so the salt had to be stored until transport boats could arrive in spring. Months of storage turned the salt into one big, rock hard block that literally had to be mined out of the  building before shipment.

Finally, the salt was transported to the storage building next to the river. The river is frozen large parts of the year, so the salt had to be stored until transport boats could arrive in spring. Months of storage turned the salt into one big, rock hard block that literally had to be mined out of the building before shipment.

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