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Western civilisation fell over a few centuries ago, because the Earth shifted back into a full on ice age climate. Oh and Skynet kind of happened.

Ice sheets expanded, inexorably rolling over the top of Scandinavia, the UK, Canada and so on. The countries a bit south of the ice have turned into tundra (which is no use for growing crops). Map of Europe in the ice age

Folks have scarpered for more hospitable lands. And the deserts have expanded too – all that water locked up as ice – so places to sustain a huge population are few and far between.

Meanwhile, there are all those northern cities which got squashed under ice sheets and glaciers. I know glaciers grind rocks up and slowly transport bits of rock ‘downstream’, so I was wondering if people (or Skynet’s robot minions) could venture into the tundra to mine for anything useful at the snout of glaciers?

Could they pan for rusty ‘pebbles’ of steel in glacial out-wash streams? Will they find fragments of copper pipe or electrical wire in the glacial moraine? Basically is there likely to be anything worth mining or will the random fragments only be of interest to archaeologists?

Assumptions:

  • The ice took a decade to overwhelm a country, so there was plenty of time to empty bank vaults of gold bullion. But people probably didn’t rip out rebar from reinforced concrete walls or nick all the pipes and wiring from the buildings before they left, since they were being shot at by ‘terminators’ in the final stage of the exodus.
  • The buildings in the cities are the same types and constructions as you find in European cities today. Bricks, concrete, glass and steel, tarmac roads, steel & wood railway tracks, etc.
  • I’m specifically interested in stuff which comes from a city which is still under the ice. Even at maximum summer melt, the site of the city is still completely covered in a glacier.
  • People/Skynet know which glaciers potentially have bits of city washed out of them, and which are barren of useful stuff.

I'm not expecting the miners to tunnel through miles of ice to get to the city. I'm interested in what the ice could have transported from the site of the crushed city to the edge of the ice sheet/snout of glacier.

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    $\begingroup$ They will find everything that's in a modern city, just rusted / patinated / wet etc. What's the problem? $\endgroup$ – Mołot Nov 2 '16 at 18:14
  • $\begingroup$ @Mołot, everything will be crushed rather than rusted. $\endgroup$ – o.m. Nov 2 '16 at 18:17
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    $\begingroup$ How far in time are you thinking of. For a few centuries the surface stuff would be in the ice, think building size erratics, or at bottom being slowly ground down. Stuff below ground may survive for much longer. Not even sure if enough time has passed for a moraine to be formed (or at least a big one). $\endgroup$ – Morrison Chang Nov 2 '16 at 18:23
  • $\begingroup$ @MorrisonChang I'm thinking the city has been entombed for at least 300 years, maybe a few centuries longer. $\endgroup$ – DrBob Nov 3 '16 at 16:10
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While the ice sheets are still expanding or stable then probably not. Everything would be ground up and buried under a lot of ice and the ice would extend faster than the debris. It would need a very specific set of circumstances to have a city large enough to supply a good amount of material where the glaciers are carrying the material around and melting at a point humans can reach.

However once the ice starts to retreat then hexagon is absolutely right. The retreating ice would leave large moraine's which are big deposits of all the material gathered up by the ice. All sorts of legacies of the past could be found in those deposits, with things like steel and other metal being a prime candidate.

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It depends on where in the ice age you're at. The Laurent Ice Sheet which was the one that last covered North America, reached thicknesses of roughly 2 miles, even in places like Boston it was close to a mile thick. This means everything underneath it is probably mangled beyond recovery except as scrap, and given how hard it would be to mine through glaciers can move a lot annually, up to 40m a day. This movement could rip apart machinery used in mining, threaten collapses, and make it difficult to make accurate tunnels to high value targets. In this scenario it's hard for me to imagine anything would be recovered.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks. I was thinking more of the ice transporting the material to the people, rather than the people tunneling to reach it. Have edited question to make that clearer. $\endgroup$ – DrBob Nov 3 '16 at 16:17
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This is a cool idea and I can't think of anything that would get in the way of glaciers grinding up and moving debris just the way you describe. This would collect in glacial moraines. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moraine The debris would likely contain everything in the city. Miners would probably use levers to move boulders and break up compacted mixtures of materials.

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Probably nothing

As you can see from this xkcd, GETTING to these buried cities wouldn't be easy. And Ice flows better than dirt so, even harder. And most of the material there is either non-recyclable, or has been crushed into dust.

Why go through all that effort when all you need is access to a few good raw resource mines? or immediately available scrap (from your robot overlords)?

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If you are in a world of SkyNet and Terminators, it could be technologically possible. The fastest ones in Greenland move 10 miles a year. A city under a glacier would be transported away at that speed in it's entirety except for the basements, it could be similar to searching for bullion from a ship in the deep ocean.

SkyNet has large energy capabilities, and it could blast large access holes through 2km of ice, maintain them, and then mine for debri in the rock bed. if you use nuclear and TNT or major heat sources you can completely get through a glacier and divert it. They could literally just put in black substrate and lazer it using the sun.

The gold would not move fast if it was protected by overlying material, and it would always tend to sink under other rocks. If you got there within a some years and you said that the vault was on a protected hillsidre or in a basement it would be ok. A glacier doesn't dig that fast vertically every year.

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