If you would like to follow the progression of this project please head over to the Dark Creations Forums where I am hosting my project on the Geology of Skyrim. Feel free to join and offer advice or assistance at any point!
Here is a transcript of my recent Jan 2013 Science Showoff set on the geology of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
Having seen that no-one has actually done this so far and published it on the web, I decided to put my geological knowledge to the problem and do a set on it! This will hopefully form the basis of a mod I will be making which looks at the geology of Skyrim which I think could be useful for educational purposes – see my initial post on this idea here.
Hello! My name is Jane and I love the video game Skyrim! So, to begin with, who actually knows what Skyrim is? (Luckily at this point there was a general excited murmur of consent that most people did actually know the game!)
For those of you that don’t know then, here is a little run-down of what the game involves…
It is a role playing game that means you can be any person you want and dress up in cool clothes (this is my outfit in Skyrim: Nightingale armour from the Thieves Guild FYI!)
You get to explore cool places (such as this Dwemer ruin)
Fight awesome monsters like Dragons…
And then of course claim the treasure…
But best of all (for me) is the scenery, and most importantly, the rocks:
So what I want to do tonight is take you through a little tour of what I think the geology would be in Skyrim. Namely, I think looking at the process of questions a geologist asks themselves when working out the geology of an area, and applying this to something cool and accessible like Skyrim.
The first question to ask therefore is what? What kinds of rocks can you find in Skyrim? Luckily, for most of this work, there are a whole host of other people in the world who are much geekier than me who have actually taken and collated and all I have to do is ask the right questions!
Here are the eight different kinds of rocks found in Skyrim. Not all of them are actually real however so the ones I will be discussing today are iron ore, gold ore, moonstone ore and malachite ore. Some notes: malachite is actually an ore in itself (of copper) and you do not get an ore of malachite; moonstone is a mineral and corundum is real (a mineral) but is found in Blackreach which is underground and cannot be shown on the Skyrim map.
So now, the next question we need to ask is where? Now we know what, it is logical to look at where they actually occur. This is taken from the extremely useful Skyrim Wiki, which has a run down of all the different rocks and all the places where you can find them, ordered from most deposits to least. I took the first entry for each rock, the place with the highest number of deposits.
Here we can see the spatial distributions of the four different rocks. The gold coloured one indicates where gold is found, red for iron, green for malachite and cream for moonstone.
Now we want to know how they actually got there. Lets take a look at how each of these rocks can form. There are different ways that each of these rocks can form, but for the purpose of tonight I will just take the most common formations.
Gold ore commonly forms in compression zones where landmasses push together, (commonly associated with mountain building) where metamorphism, or rocks undergoing change through heat and pressure, dehydrate. The release of fluids from the rock will take with it dissolved minerals which can include gold. When these fluids crystallise, in cracks within the rock,, you can find gold alongside other minerals like quartz and sphalerite (pictured). When these mountains that have formed erode over millions of years, the gold in the cracks is found in alluvium, or river sediments where people will then pan for gold.
Iron is most commonly derived from rocks referred to as banded iron formations. These are Precambrian in age – they are at least 2,400 million years old! These rocks are really exciting, because they actually represent the point at which organisms started photosynthesising and producing oxygen. At first, when bacteria began producing oxygen earlier around 2,600 million years ago the oxygen produced was chemically captured, forming iron oxide deposits as seen in the banded iron formations. Later, when much of the iron had been oxidised, free oxygen began to accumulate in the atmosphere until it reached a level similar to today’s. Banded iron formations therefore didn’t occur much after 1,800 million years ago. The banded iron formations commonly formed in the oceans, and the red bands of iron oxide are therefore mingled with oceanic fallout silica. As these rocks are so old, many of them have been deformed through metamorphism.
Malachite is a copper ore. It can be formed via fluid interaction of intrusive magma that has cooled at different times and depths. The fluids pick up dissolved minerals from the magma, and the fluids are later driven off during cooling of the magma. This causes zones of rocks which are enriched with various metals and other minerals precipitated in cracks within the rocks. This type of formation is commonly associated with copper ore and the veins and cracks carrying the mineralised rocks is called stockwork.
Moonstone is actually a mineral that geologists call feldspar. Feldspar is a rock forming mineral commonly associated with igneous rocks (formed from magma/lava). Shallow melting of the mantle (below the Earth’s crust) produces large volumes of magma that are rich in silica and therefore silica rich minerals including feldspar which is a silicate (contains silicon and oxygen). Cooling of this magma can lead to separation of feldspar which has more potassium and feldspar that has more sodium, forming lamellae of white and pink (to the naked eye) and black and white (under the microscope). This mixing of slightly different composition rock means that to the naked eye the feldspar looks shiny, and is why it is given the name moonstone.
Great, so now we have the how sorted from the rocks point of view, we should also really ask how they got there from a landscape point of view. To do this we need to take a look at the map and look at the geography – where the hills are and what they can tell us about how the area has formed.
Over in the west, where we see a couple of curvy lines with triangles on them, these mean that the land to the north east has been thrust on top of land to the south west. This is also called compression, which builds mountains, and could explain why we see mountains in the west around Markarth.
In the east, we see the Rift which holds the town of Riften. Maybe unsurprisingly, I see this area as being extended (or rifted apart) between the Throat of the World and the mountains adjacent to Eastmarch. The straight lines with squares indicate extension, where the land to the east has been displaced towards the east. This is also called a normal fault.
If this is the case on the map, then we could also infer that to the west of the Throat of the World there has been some further extension, which is why I have put arrows across the area of mountain building. This could also tell us that the thrusting occurred first, and that the extension occurred later.
The Throat of the World and the town of Solitude are therefore displaced above the rest of Skyrim, which could account for why we see the highest mountains there and the plateau where Solitude sits.
But what does this all mean?! Can we fit this large scale analysis together with the formation of the rocks? Does it all add up? Well, surprisingly the answer is yes.
And here it is! To recap: we have gold occurring over in the west, which is commonly associated with zones of compression and mountain building, found in streams in alluvium from the erosion of these mountains. Iron ore is commonly found in heavily metamorphosed rocks, and metamorphism is very commonly associated with areas of compression and mountain building. The land in the centre would have been thrust towards the south west to form the mountains in the west near Markarth, which therefore seems to make sense. In the east, we have malachite and moonstone occurring near the Rift – a zone of continental extension. It is very common at rifts/extension zones to have increased volcanic activity, as when continents pull apart magma will rise up to fill the space created.
And there you have it, the geology of Skyrim. Of course, this is all hypothetical not least because it is a video game but also because there may be other interpretations of the game, especially if you were to take a closer look at the structural formations in-game and better map the spatial distributions of the ores. However, it’s a start and I hope that this is useful to some interested people! As I also said at the beginning, I think that if this was to be done properly – and a mod made about the geology of Skyrim – then it could be a great educational tool and a fun step for science communication to a new and diverse audience.
Please feel free to contact me about this project by heading over to the Dark Creations Forum linked to at the beginning of this post, or through Twitter (@JLizRob) or email janeliz.robb [at] gmail.com!
N.B. I do not claim ownership/copyright of the images (apart from where I have edited over the maps).