121 thoughts on “The Geology of Skyrim

  1. Jane, congratulations on producing such a comprehensive geological survey of this most interesting country. Will you be doing any geochemistry/geophysics on your next trip? The mineral resources look quite promising!

    • Thanks Bob! Well, I hope to make a mod which lets you look more closely at the rocks, but I need some specalist knowledge about video games to know what is possible – maybe we could look at geochem!

      • You are truly brilliant. Just giving credit where credit is due.. Did you know theres an underground area on this game that spans almost as big as that area. Its really pretty, you should study that next.

        • Just musing whether the source of the (alluvial?) corundum is volcanic or metamorphic – perhaps I need to go gem hunting :-)

          • Hi Bob,

            In this post, the gold was in the alluvium, so feel free to gold pan! I still need to look at the corundum however, so maybe in another post I can address where you can go gem hunting :-)

        • Hey Matthew,

          Thanks! Yes, I think Blackreach is another project entirely! But it would be interesting to see if we could weave the abundance of corundum there into the rest of the geological picture…

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    • Hi Morrigan,

      That is true, but I decided to look at the ores that were most abundant and that could be located in highest quantities for the topic of the stand-up set (which is 9 minutes long) and would be too short to include any more than the four I discuss.

      I mention at the end of the post that there is much more to be done when looking at the geology of Skyrim, as I have not mapped out all the locations at which each rock occurs but tried a basic look at the geology of the area for the purpose of the Science Showoff set. Hopefully looking at a more complete geology of the area is something I can do in the future.

  3. I love it! And holy Talos are you going to make MAKE A MOD THAT ADDS BIF TO SKYRIM?! Sorry, got a little excited there. (I also really like your Nightingale retex. Is that widely available?)

    I think you did a marvelous job interpreting the possible history that the likely wasn’t considered when creating the terrain. Did you look only at what we know about Skryim, or did you take into account the surrounding areas? For example,Vvardenfell being dominated by an enormous volcano or the terrain we saw in Cyrodil in Oblivion? I’d love to see your take on possible plate boundaries on the world map.

    I really enjoyed this, so thanks!

    • Hi,

      Thanks for the comment! Glad you like the post :-) I have only taken Skyrim into account at the moment, but in the future there is no reason not to look at the other provinces. I am kind of excited about the new DLC Dragonborn for Skyrim because apparently there is a volcano and columnar basalt – which is awesome! So def scope there for a little geo mapping!

      I also played Oblivion and loved the scenery, but Skyrim textures are way more realistic, meaning that if I can make a mod it will have much more realistic effect here.

      I unfortunately don’t have the cool Nightingale gold bits on the armour, this is a pic I used just off Google! I chose it because it was the best on I could find of a girl in that amour (and in my game I am a girl and have that armour!).

  4. Great read, and it’s funny how Bethesda always seems to make everything make sense…

    These ores weren’t placed at random so it makes me wonder if the have a geologist on the team just for this sort of thing ahhah.

    Also later this year Elder Scrolls Online will be released showing off every province. I would love to eventually see a breakdown of all of tamriel! (of course that would take so long though :p)

    • Hey Dave,

      Thanks for the comment! I asked about this and although they didn’t have a consulting scientist (which is what I assumed) they had a very dedicated design team who took a lot of pains to research as much about erosion and ecologies as possible. I think they did some great work.

      I think a whole geo map of Tamriel would also be awesome, but as you say a lot of work! However, I am sure it can be done at some point in the future!

  5. My god, this article was so good! As a student of Geology, I found it to be very well written and explained a fair bit of things in a logical way. :D

  6. Very interesting article. There’s a sunken Imperial fort in the Rift, IIRC that further supports your hypothesis.
    As an earlier commenter noted, there are corundum ore deposits on the surface in a few places, as well as plentiful silver mines in The Reach.

    While I’m not sure it’s the same in Tamriel, in our world, quicksilver is the old-fashioned name for mercury, so I don’t know if that would change any of your conclusions?

    I also seem to recall that Tamrielic Ebony is officially stated to be magic-infused obsidian? (It certainly looked that way in Morrowind) might be another factor to consider…

    • Hi Ben,

      Yes, I found out that quicksilver is mercury too, but decided not to include it in this particular interpretation for brevity in the stand-up set I did – however if I manage to do a more complete version of the geology/a mod then I would try to take all the smaller deposits on the surface into account.

      Thanks for the comment!

  7. Now here is a hard one. Based on your findings can you produce a map that shows what Skyrim will look like based on further geological actively?

    • Hi Randy,

      Thanks for the comment! Well, I am pretty sure that would be possible. Again, it would take some more work (and time!) and would help if I did a more complete map of all the deposits as well as the rest of Tamriel geology, but totally something that would be great to do! Think the plate tectonic models over the past few million years you can find easily on Google – that would be cool!

  8. Thank you so much for this. Geology and The Elder Scrolls series are two things I love and you combined the two artfully, tastefully, and most importantly, in a very exciting manner. This was a great read! I will share it with my friends.

  9. Thanks everyone for the great comments, I generally try to reply to all but I think this might get a bit much – so just wanted to say I am really glad people have found it fun and educational/interesting :-)

    • Your work has inspired many! Thank you for taking the time to share this with us. I look forward to reading more about this. For science!

  10. Great analysis. I would definitely subscribe to a mod that makes Skyrim more scientifically realistic. I am also curious to see how the new area in the Dragonborn DLC will present its ore distribution. Wonder if the near by volcano will produce an abundance of moonstone. Also I am pretty sure there are going to be more armour types coming, meaning more ore selection? Any ways keep it up .

    Skyrim = Awesome!

    • Thanks for the comment – yep, I also hear there are columnar basalts in the new DLC which I have just started playing (columnar basalts are what you see in the Giants Causeway in Ireland) :-)

  11. From one geologist to another, good hypothesis! I enjoyed it. Especially Riften in the rift; I also see random zones where there are faults. I have to admit some of the terrain is very pretty.

    Although I have to say the Skyrim team needs scientists to make sure nitty gritty details are worked out. I had to remember, it’s a game! Corundum ore should produce sapphire… not to get ruby from iron ore (impossible). There’s no such thing as a geode vein (for soul gems or corundum ore); you can have geodes with different silica phases.

  12. Great article, great science….as a chemist, you’ve inspired me to look at the biochemistry/chemistry involved in the game’s alchemy! I applaud the work.

  13. I’m not much a fan of geology, but this was an interesting read. Would love to see a breakdown of all of Tamriel when TES Online is released.

  14. This is absolutely awesome. Two quick notes:

    (1) Typo: “Shallow melting of the mantle (below the Earth’s crust) produces large volumes of magma that are rick in silica and therefore silica rich minerals including feldspar which is a silicate (contains silicon and oxygen).” Should probably be “rich in silica”, yeah?

    (2) Marry me. :D

  15. Hi Jane,

    Interesting read, although I would like to point out that there are several mines outside of Blackreach (i.e., visible in the overland map) where corundum can be mined. Not sure how that affects your findings, as (a) they don’t seem to be concentrated in a particular holding, and (b) I’m not a geologist.

    Hope that helps, though.

    • Haha! Thanks for the comment, yes I know corundum can be found outside Blackreach, but for the purpose of the set (as it was performed live in 9 minutes in front of an audience) I didn’t discuss corundum – for the sake of brevity! However, I will take it into account when I do a more complete map of the area and see what happens!

  16. From a brother geologist, I am impressed with what you have put together. Maybe someone can mod a Brunton, rock hammer, and clip board into the game so I can get some areas surveyed too.

  17. This was absolutely fascinating to read! I love Skyrim and have definitely never looked at it this way before.
    I’m beginning to realize just how much work can go into designing an entire fantasy land (although I’ve been beginning to realize that for many years now, in trying to design my own world!) and applaud Bethesda for the detail they put into their work!
    Thank you for taking the time to do all this work!
    Also, I’m looking forward to seeing your mod when you get it made!

  18. As a geology student and a fervent believer that Skyrim is one of the best games ever made in gaming history, this article is one of the greatest things I could have found. Congratulations on being linked to by the official TES facebook page!
    Have you noticed that as you travel on foot from the Eastmarch to the Rift, there is a massive wall of rock that rises above the hot-springs, that the path climbs, and that the entire Rift region is at a much higher altitude than the Eastmarch to the north? How does that fit into your map?

  19. Great article:)
    Just maybe a few points from a fan of the series:

    1. Malachite and Ebony are a form of volcanic glass in Elder Scrolls universe:

    2: There are also Silver and Quicksilver deposits in Skyrim

    3. One could also consider events from outside Skyrim which could have a significant impact on its geology like the relatively recent fall of Baar Dau (http://www.uesp.net/wiki/Lore:Baar_Dau) and the consequent eruption of the Red Mountain, which destroyed most Vvardenfell just east of Skyrim

    4. Also I think that taking one place of the most common occurance of an ore doesnt reflect its spatial distribution. For example gold seems to be also abundand in eastern Skyrim (http://www.uesp.net/maps/srmap/srmap.shtml?search=Quicksilver+Ore+Vein), although the map is still work in progress. Probably the best idea would be to extract the locations of all veins directly from the Construction Kit and plot them on a simple scatter chart for starters.

    5. Sorry for any language mistakes:) English isn’t my primary languange.

    • You are right, taking the place of highest abundance does not reflect spatial distribution and the geology of the area will be affected by where and how the rest of the occurrences are. However, this was a live set designed to be delivered to an audience in 9 minutes, so I made a decision to only include the location of highest abundance of specific ores for the sake of brevity.

      Yes it would be interesting to take into account other geological events, but this would not affect the geological evidence provided in this specific area, but only enhance the understanding of the wider geology of Tamriel. One day!

      Thanks for the note on ebony, I will take this into account when I do some more detailed mapping. Unfortunately malachite is a real rock and therefore I will interpret it as copper ore and not volcanic glass.

      • ///Unfortunately malachite is a real rock///
        It’s a real rock in real world. But in Nirn it is not a copper ore, but a form of volcanic glass. You should do some researches in Nirn minerals first. Ebony, volcanic glass, malachite, quicksilver, moonstone and corundum ARE totally NOT their real-world namesakes. Please keep it in mind. When you do the analisys of Nirn geology (“the Geology of Skyrim”, you called it so), please make it according to Nirn rules of nature.
        And if you do the real world analisys, then why doing it on example of Skyrim? It completely removes all scientific facts off the scene. You seek for the coincidences and you definitely will find them, but where is the science in this?

        • Hi,

          Thanks for the comment, but my aim in this project is not to mimic Skyrim lore, but to actually help people understand real geology through a video game. As you may have gathered from the post, I am a science communicator and my aim for making a mod is to develop an educational tool for people who would not normally know or care about geology. I wanted to equip people with the skills to go out and understand geology in Skyrim or the real world by being able to ask the right questions, and this is where the science comes in. Science is not just all about facts, but it is about understanding scientific methodology and process which I personally feel is much more important than understanding specific facts about separate sciences. I explain my thinking behind this in other posts on my blog too.

  20. Loved this! A whole new perspective on skyrim. It would be cool if you could add in some fictional science for how the likes of ebony ore and others are formed :)

  21. From this day on, I shall never wander around Skyrim without paying attention to rock formations, ore veins and other means of geological activities. Thank you for this most interesting read!

    Oh and by the way: How safe do you think it was to build an entire city (Solitude) on that kind of arch over the sea? :-D

    • Glad to hear it! I don’t know how safe it would be, maybe an engineer might be able to answer your question. But if they are formed like sea stacks are from erosion then the city probably has a finite lifetime, however this might be in several thousand years and not within a human lifetime.

  22. What a great article, really wonderful. Im surprised to see that Skyrim makes geological sense.
    I dont know if its deliberate, but if it is then Bethesda has outdone themselves in detail.
    Only thing that I think is kind of a shame is using the wiki as a source instead of the UESP.
    Every true TES geek knows the UESP is infinitely better, as it is completer, sourced and devoid of fanfiction.

  23. Pingback: Interview: Skyrim Rocks | Bethesda Blog

  24. Man, if the rocks in Skyrim can get you to write an essay like this, don’t go near Dwarf Fortress!
    (Spoiler- it has almost every actual rock type, as well as its melting and boiling point, accurately)

  25. Pingback: Interview: Skyrim Rocks | MensaDad News

  26. Interesting analysis, but there are a couple of inaccuracies I’d like to point out:

    First, Orichalcum and Quicksilver are also both real materials, however their real world properties are quite different from the Skyrim materials. Quicksilver is another word for mercury, but in Skyrim it’s shown to be a metallic ore that is mainly used to produce Elven weapons and Elven gilded armor. Orichalcum in reality was a metal mentioned by ancient Greeks and is commonly believed to be an alloy of gold and copper. In Skyrim, it’s a metal that can produce armor that is harder than steel and is most commonly mined and crafted by the Orsimer – which is why it’s called Orcish armor and weapons.

    The same can be said for almost all materials in Skyrim, except for Iron and Gold. However, the reasons why they may have formed and why they are most concentrated in certain locations is pretty spot on! Malachite is concentrated in Eastmarch because of the volcanic nature of the area. In Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Malachite appears under the name “Raw Glass”, and Glass armor and weapons have been in Elder Scrolls games since Arena. Because of its properties in Elder Scrolls lore, it is definitely not a copper ore, it’s not even a metal – it’s a volcanic glass. Since Morrowind took place on the volcanic island of Vvardenfell, it makes sense it would have lots of Raw Glass deposits. It does appear in Daggerfall as well, also called Malachite, and in that game it is an alchemy ingredient (Raw Glass is also an alchemy ingredient in Morrowind).

    Ebony is also a volcanic glass in Skyrim, but when fashioned into weapons and armor is only second to Daedric and Dragon materials. Furthermore, Daedric weapons and armor are made out of Ebony, but also require the blood of a Daedra. More powerful Daedric artifacts are so strongly associated with their corresponding princes that they do not remain in one place at a time – this is why the Champion of Cyrodiil could have Sanguine’s Rose, then suddenly it is back in the hands of Sanguine himself in the events of Skyrim. Same with the Wabbajack, Volendrung, Spellbreaker, Ring of Hircine, Mehrunes’ Razor, Skull of Corruption and so on.

    Corundum in real life is mostly aluminum oxide, but in Skyrim it is used to make steel which is most commonly an alloy of iron and carbon. The color of Corundum in Skyrim is also closer to copper. However, in Skyrim there is one instance where Corundum can be obtained from a gemstone deposit, in the aforementioned Blackreach.

    Moonstone looks like it borrowed the physical appearance of real life moonstone, however I doubt it would have the same properties as real life moonstone. Elven armor is made of moonstone for the most part, with weapons and Elven Gilded armor also containing Quicksilver. From the appearance, when fashioned into armor or weapons, moonstone seems to be a light-weight golden metal instead of a mineral.

    Even silver has different properties in Skyrim, being that it has an innate magical effect that causes increased harm to undead or werewolves. In real life, too much silver might turn you blue.

    • Hi Joe,

      Thanks for telling me about some more of the Skyrim lore, but as you might have gathered from the post my aim is not to just tell the story of the geology of the area, but to actually teach people about real geology and the scientific process that geologists use. My aim in this was to actually make an educational tool through video games. This involves taking real rocks and not the Skyrim interpretations. But also importantly letting people know the right questions (as well as some real-live geological facts) to ask so they can actually go back to the game or the real world and then look at the geology and try to interpret it themselves. I hope this makes sense, and I hope that this is what people can get from this project as well as something fun – because I love playing the game and like to look at the scenery and see more in it!

  27. I have been fascinated in Skyrim and please ma’am try to solve the mystery about the arch rock in Solitude, where the Blue Palace sitting. It’s odd how that happened.

  28. Pingback: Interview: Skyrim Rocks

  29. Hey Jane,
    Love this so much, found it informative and an enjoyable read. I also love Skyrim mostly for the scenery as well, I also enjoyed Oblivion and Morrowinds scenery even though the graphics back then werent as good as they are now. Just had one problem with your ores. There is in fact a 9th mineral that i think you have overlooked. You can mine silver ore in the mine just outside of Markarth. Just letting you know in case you missed it. Look forward to reading your servey on solstheim when the Dragonborn DLC is finally released.

    • Thanks for that, when I come to do a more in depth look at the geology I will certainly include silver, and at some point will look at Solstheim (which I am currently playing)!

  30. Pingback: I’m Looking for an Expert Skyrim Modder with a Passion for Science | Geo-HeritageScience

  31. Very cool.
    As an author in the process of creating my own fictional world, this not only interesting, but useful. I really want my world to make geological sense and there’s some good info in here to help me understand how to do so.
    Thanks for sharing this.

    • Hi Ben,

      That’s great! Really glad you will find this post helpful in making your world – that was my ultimate aim :-) If you want some scientific consultation (however minor) please do email me as I would be more than happy to contribute!

    • Hi Cathleen,

      Thanks for your comment – I will check out dark creations. I have received emails from others about my blog post, so maybe you want to check you typed it right? (Always easy to make typos!)

  32. Pingback: How teaching science through video games can engage new audiences | Geo-HeritageScience

    • Hi,

      If you noticed I say in the post this is just the start of the project and doesn’t include all the rocks or locations that they can be found. However I will when taking the project further.

  33. It seems that this geology of Skyrim is in fact deliberate.
    The Bethesda forum liaison CCNA has said on the official Bethesda softwork forum on a thread regarding your analysis:

    “Back when they were developing the map, both for this game and for the Fallout 3, they spent time learning how the ground really works, erosion patterns, plate tectonics etc. They had a goal to create a realistic environment so they spent time with the USGS and others to learn how to model natural landscapes.”

    So that is double kudos. Kudos to Bethesda to take the time to figure out how to make a landscape that makes sense and kudos to you, Jane, for being the one that has figured this underlying pattern out and describing it in a way that explains things even for those that might not be familiar with geology.

  34. Two glaring typos in my last paragraph. I cant figure out how to make corrections. Could a mod please correct ‘ubderlying’ into ‘ underlining’ and ‘decribing’ into ‘describing’?
    Thanks :)

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  40. This is such a cool post, possibly the best I’ve ever read, considering that it covers two of my favourite topics. Do you think the game designers put detailed thought into the geology of the game when they designed it? If so, could I maybe get a job as a gaming geologist? (fingers crossed that such a job exists)

    • Thanks :-) they worked very hard to make sure that the ecologies were as realistic as possible, and this had an impact on the geology, however they did not have an on board geologist on the team. They did all the research themselves – so it’s impressive!

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  44. I’m wondering, if there aren’t some mistakes… I mean, malachite, for example, isn’t directly connected to copper ore, it’s a mineral from oxidation zone of copper veins, or ore. Another thing – as far as I know, gold ores are connected to middle-temperature hydrothermal veins, which are after-magmatic process, connected to deep magma sources. On the other hand, moonstone, which is feldspar is rather found in acidic rocks, such as granite.

    For a map, I wouldn’t go with some directions, before looking more into orientation of metamorphic rocks in mountains.

    Anyway, this is good job, as for a start of project! I will certainly follow and maybe comment some more :)

    • Hi Frey, I think you will find that your points are exactly what I have explained in the blog post. If you also look at the bold text at the top, there is more detailed work on the spatial locations of the ores.

  45. Pingback: Skyrim – The Elder Scrolls V | Grit and Guts

  46. Really interesting work you’ve done here! I did some geology at university, so I’m a little embarrassed I didn’t find this sooner. I noticed Skyrim’s volcanism myself, and took this screencap overlooking the area from a ridge to the south:

    Considering that the whole area is considerably lower down than the surrounding regions, I’ve come to believe that the developers may have intended the whole of Eastmarch to be the caldera of a supervolcano.

  47. Pingback: The Geology of Skyrim: An unexpected journey | GeoLog

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