The iron ore mine in Kiruna, Sweden, is the largest in the world. Transposed over Manhattan, it would stretch from river to river, from Canal Street to Central Park South. But what makes the Kiruna mine extraordinary is its depth: By 2033, its shafts will descend nearly a mile below the earth.
That will be good for extracting iron, but bad for the town of Kiruna, which is perched in an increasingly perilous spot on the edge of the mine. In 2003, preparing for this expansion, the Swedish mining company Luossavaara-Kiirunavaara Aktiebolag (LKAB) discovered that the excavations had and would continue to destabilize the town of 18,000. Before long, Kiruna would slide into the pit.
Ten years ago, LKAB announced it would move Kiruna two miles to the east. The master plan, whose first phase was announced in May, outlines a 20-year project that will cost more than a billion dollars. But the movement of the city from west to east could last until 2100 if excavations progress.
Structurally and sociologically, the moving of Kiruna is a noteworthy ambition in its own right. But it’s also an important test case in a field that may be, unfortunately, about to explode. Sea level rise is accelerating. Kiruna won’t be the last town to be relocated.