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in my world there is a mountain system where most of the rock is some kind of material or mineral that conducts heat very well. So much so that there is no snow on the peaks as it melts quite quickly if it falls. I would also like to take advantage of these properties so that the civilizations that settle there can use the geothermal energy of the mountain system as their main source of energy. Is there any mineral or rock type that exists that could have these properties? Also, if this mountain system were huge, for example as large as the Alps, what consequences would it have for the climate?

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    $\begingroup$ What is the link between "rock which is a good thermal conductor" and "use the geothermal energy"? Why would the snow melt when it falls on a good thermal conductor? Anyway, the point is that the thermal conductivity of minerals varies extremely widely, with diamond being thousands of times better than limestone at conducting heat. (Some widespread minerals, such as pyrite or haematite, have thermal conductivities comparable to steel.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jun 30 at 12:49
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not 100% sure, but isn't it more about having a very hot mountain rather than having a heat conductive mountain? If it is the latter, you'll get something akin to a sand desert, where temperature rises and drops very quickly as heat sources come and go. $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Jun 30 at 13:48
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    $\begingroup$ If it conducts heat well, that means it'll conduct cold as well. Snow could still cool the top of the mountain. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Jun 30 at 15:30
  • $\begingroup$ I think you have a misunderstanding WRT geothermal energy. Unless the mountains are volcanic, you're not going to find geothermal sources IN the mountains. They'll be along the edge of the mountains, where uplift & active faults are located. Take for example the Sierra Nevada, which is a block being uplifted on the east. That eastern edge has many hot springs & at least one large geothermal plant, but there are few if any in the mountains to the west. You have to go nearly to the coast (near Clear Lake & the San Andreas fault) to find California's major geothermal plants. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Jun 30 at 18:17
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Diamond!

I recycled this answer of mine from here: How would a 30-kilometer tall mountain on an Earthlike planet look?

These folks want a tall mountain but as a bonus it was a hot mountain too because of the thermal conductivity of diamond.


A mountain of diamond seems so trite, but really it would be better in many respects. Lets get it over with.

So diamond: density of 3.5 and compressive strength of 60 GPA; maximum mountain height is 196 km

These diamonds would have been formed in the atmosphere of a ancient gas giant and then incorporated in the crust of this Earthlike world. I envision this huge, partly fused mountain of diamond extending farther down below the surface than it does above. Despite the huge mass balanced on one point, it does not sink further down because the bottom of the mountain is floating in denser, partly metallic molten materials. The diamond mountain is essentially an iceberg in the crust.

This also gives insight into how this diamond iceberg mountain would look. There would be no plants on it and no ice or snow. Diamond is one of the best thermal conductors there is. With its big bottom side down into the mantle, the entire thing would be very hot.

diamond mountain my own assembly. mount hood with uncut diamond

.

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  • $\begingroup$ And now you've brought down the value of diamonds to the one of dirt :D. I guess you'd need to dig down or a little to avoid the cold air and get the most temperature of it. I recall that diamonds are extremely hard but easily breakable; How easy do you think it'd be easy to dig a tunnel inside? $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Jun 30 at 22:30
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    $\begingroup$ @Tortliena - maybe you could have nondiamond inclusions in the big diamond, that were more amenable to tunnelling. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Jun 30 at 23:40
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The remains of coal mining

In regions where coal mining was predominant, it was common to put the waste of mining aside, shaping a cone, usually dark in color. Over time, they form spoil tips, which easily reach 150 m in height, but I guess it could go further and higher if people continued to look for coal.

A "terril" or Spoil tip photo at Loos-en-Gohelle, North of France

A "terril" or Spoil tip at Loos-en-Gohelle, North of France1

As far as I am aware, this composition has a triple effect to heat : First it's black, so any ray of sun will get absorbed, increasing its temperature. Then, it is often subject to internal combustion, increasing the temperature increase. Finally, because of various chemical elements, plant life has a much harder time growing on it, giving less freshness and therefore more heat.

Things to take into account

Unless your world is able to directly transfer "low" heat (as in under water ebullition point) into mechanical energy, you'll probably will never get what you wish.

Indeed, it's already hard to get a whole place to burn over long period of times. Yes, there are "red" volcanoes, but high temperatures are reached only in places where you don't want to put a long term-infrastructures, such as a power plant :p. Moreover, even if you do find a place with a high-enough temperature, you'll only be able to build on its surface without killing your workers, which drastically reduces the power output and maneuverability in and out of your mountain. Recall : If the heat of your mountain is high and easily transmitted, then any of your power-plant operators will quickly suffocate, even if they're equipped with protective equipments.

My suggestion isn't perfect either, as the coal remains are quite unstable by nature, due to the way it has been formed or/and by the explosive components inside. You should expect explosions and possibly landslides from time to time.

Still, given the Steampunk tag you've put on your question, I guess it's quite in sync with what nearby populations could have done over a very long time :).


1 : Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, Author : Sylvain Beucler, CCA 3.0

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  • $\begingroup$ black and lifeless will make it colder not hotter at mountain altitudes. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Jun 30 at 16:10
  • $\begingroup$ @John Lifeless, perhaps, but black? Black objects absorb all energy, as opposed to white ones which reflects everything (on the visible scale, at least). This energy shakes up the molecules, increasing therefore warmth. It's also the reason why you should wear sunglasses when you go skiing, as you take on all UVs from the snow that acts like a mirror because it's white. You should explain why it acts differently at high altitudes. $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Jun 30 at 16:18
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    $\begingroup$ You don't have to justify when it's easily seen in nature. Cotopaxi in Ecuador is a volcano that is largely formed out of basaltic andesite, which is black to very dark gray to dark brown in composition, and is actually darker than that pictured waste pile. It sits on the equator, so maximum year-round exposure to sunlight. It also has a permanent snowcap (except for the parts that melt when it erupts). $\endgroup$ Jun 30 at 20:44
  • $\begingroup$ @KeithMorrison That doesn't mean that black color makes an object colder than grey or white at high-altitudes, which is -I remind you- the affirmation. Watch out for logic shortcuts here! $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Jun 30 at 21:56
  • $\begingroup$ It's... hmm... like you're trying to prove that a specific car is broken because it doesn't have fuel by sinking it deep in water. Yes, of course the car won't move, but does that mean the lack of fuel is the fault? For the mountain sake, there is a limit to the efficiency of one component, you have to play with others to increase the height you have no snow cap. $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Jun 30 at 22:06
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Its impossible without handwavium.

No matter how good a thermal conductor you make it that will just result in the rock being colder not hotter. Even active volcanoes develop snow on their peaks. All you are doing is cooling your heat source faster. Note the peaks of mountains often have little to no snow just because they are steep, most of the snow is in the valleys. enter image description here

Good news geothermal energy is completely usable without any magic properties.

If the mountain range is mildly volcanic it will supply plenty of energy. volcanic geothermal can be used for dry steam power generation which is very efficient and cheap to boot. Hot wet rock geothermal is even better and you actually want snow for that because you need a lot of water in the rock.

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  • $\begingroup$ Oh I understand your comment now, when you thought about mountains, you went with the biggest ones XD. Do you your answer still applies for mountains at around 800-1200 m? Or should I better ask : at which point do you think volcanoes would overcome snow? $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Jun 30 at 16:42
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Well, if this is science fiction, then good news -- you make the rules!

Why not just create your own special type of rock? It can have all the properties you need. As far as geothermal energy goes...you could say that the mountains contain a lot of thermal springs, and that your special rock conducts the heat very well. Maybe steam from the streams can be used. Or maybe the civilizations have found ways to magnify the heat from the rocks for energy. IDK, I wouldn't think too hard about it. Just do what's necessary for your story :-)

As for the mountains affecting climate...I'm no expert. But I think usually mountains tend to absorb weather fronts, creating more or less peaceful valleys. Could be wrong though. I would simply research different geographical areas like the one you wish to create so you can make an informed decision.

Best wishes!

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If you want to have a dry mountain range you may have to replicate the environmental conditions associated with the Atacama Desert in south America.

Failing that, the mountain range may need to be a constantly active volcanic gash that brings hot magma to the surface to erupt as lava. It's also how the inhabitants can utilize geothermal energy.

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