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So, within my setting, I would like to also have a kingdom based in a special desert. Absolutely all of the sand in the desert would be ore sand. Ores of any and all kinds that you could traditionally find by digging underground, you can find it here in this desert as sand.

What I ultimately intend is for this kingdom to become very rich, as they are very easily able to simply dig for sand, sift through it and smelt it for metal.

Notes:

  • Tech levels for this kingdom is pre-industrial, which is quite a lot more advanced than the rest of the world which is simply late-medieval
  • There is magic
  • Feel free to suggest fantasy plants and animals that can live in such a desert of ore to make it more like a real desert

For this first question, the clarified question will be as such. How would such a desert of ore be different from a desert of sand?

The next question I will then want to ask, but which would make this one question too broad will be over here, which is, what would people living in such a desert of ore need to be able to survive.

EDIT: The flora and fauna portion of this question has been split and moved to this other question over here.

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  • $\begingroup$ Are you going for the ore is part of the sand, or it's sand with ore in it? $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Feb 24 '15 at 1:44
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    $\begingroup$ @Twelfth, it sounds like the sand is the ore, and there are many different types. $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Feb 24 '15 at 1:46
  • $\begingroup$ I don't have the time to type up a full answer, but consider en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metal_toxicity. On top of general living issues, think of how much worse a sandstorm would be in this desert... $\endgroup$ – Dan Smolinske Feb 24 '15 at 1:50
  • $\begingroup$ As to what animals and plants might live there... that should be a whole other question. It makes the question too broad as it is. $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Feb 24 '15 at 1:52
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    $\begingroup$ Note that 'mining' ore from sand may be more difficult than mining from earth. Earth is much more stable than sand, and you can target your digging vs. having to sift through mountains of shifting sands. $\endgroup$ – DA. Feb 24 '15 at 5:45
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The short answer is that a desert of quartz sand isn't too much different from a desert of [insert name of economically significant ore here] sand for the most part. The common factor is that the surface is a finely divided, dry, non-cohesive substance, and there is very infrequent and light rainfall for the most part, leading to a depauperate ecology where plants and animals populations are limited by access to water more than anything else.

I presume that all the sand in this kingdom will be one economically significant ore or another, but not all the same type, with each ore occurring in a patch (with some overlap of course, unless magic prevents that - such magic would be almost essential to prevent extensive mixing over relatively short periods of time). You may well also find quartz sand - it has uses in glassmaking. However, you may also find heavy metal ore sands that are quite toxic, and if any plants can even grow in such sand, they will probably become quite toxic too. Heavy metal ore sand would be toxic if inhaled too, so dust filter respirators might be a necessity.

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    $\begingroup$ Heavy metal should naturally sink to the bottom of the sand dunes, so it will be unlikely for a significant amount to be found without digging for it. $\endgroup$ – Flotolk Mar 2 '15 at 14:51
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    $\begingroup$ @Flotolk, only if there is other material there. The dunes may be all ore. $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Mar 2 '15 at 22:10
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    $\begingroup$ I would feel sad for the Kingdom living in the Uranium or Lead dunes. $\endgroup$ – Shadow Z. Mar 17 '15 at 17:19
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    $\begingroup$ Shadow Z makes a good point. High concentrations of metallic ores everywhere would probably make all water toxic. So no plants, no animals. With magic you might be able to purify water enough to create mining camps. Although there would not be any real reason to go beyond the edges, since the edges would be rich enough. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Mar 17 '15 at 17:46
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If the ores in the desert are fairly equally distributed and mixed together, ore separation will be a serious issue. I would assume some sort of sluice system where heavier ores can be separated from lighter ores, but I don't think this would be the only part of the separation system. There would be many instances of a slightly larger but lighter element ending up mixed in with smaller pieces of a heavier element. Metal toxicity would be a serious issue and even relatively benign metals (copper, aluminum, etc.) can poison given a decent enough exposure. Dust storms could be seriously dangerous for anyone caught in one, as well.

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