Greenland’s Melting Glaciers Spew a Difficult Treasure: Sand

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That sediment is particular, certainly. Desert sand from, say, the Sahara isn’t any good for making concrete as a result of it’s too rounded and uniform. Over millennia, winds push these grains round, sharpening them. In the event you make concrete out of such sand, “it is virtually like constructing with marbles,” says Bendixen. “You need particles which can be extra angular in form, not rounded. And that kind of fabric is strictly what you get from rivers, for instance, or materials that has been deposited by glaciers.”

As Greenland’s ice sheet—which covers 700,000 square miles and is as much as 10,000 toes thick—rubs in opposition to the land, it grinds up sediment, together with sand, positive silt, and bigger chunks of gravel. And because the ice melts, torrents of water carry all that particles to the ocean, whereas the pounding of the rivers themselves additional erodes the panorama. In comparison with the 1000’s of years that sand spends rolling across the Sahara and changing into rounded, the particles coming off Greenland are brisker. They’re extra angular and extra diversely formed. As a substitute of appearing like marbles, they match collectively like items of a jigsaw puzzle, which is sweet for concrete.

{Photograph}: Nicolaj Krog Larsen

Greenland already harvests its sand for native, small-scale concrete manufacturing, since importing sand can be prohibitively costly. That is restricted to home firms, who must win non-exclusive permits after passing environmental evaluation by the federal government’s scientific advisers. They will additionally apply to export the sand, however that requires further licensing. “We’re mainly additionally open for sand extraction aiming at export, however then it will likely be handled like every other mining exercise,” says Kim Zinck-Jørgensen, of the Greenland authorities’s Mineral Licence and Security Authority. “And for that you will have a a lot larger setup with laws and in addition environmental affect assessments, social affect assessments.” 

At present, dredging boats suck up sediment alongside the coast and filter out the sand, which is then introduced again onshore. But when Greenland decides to scale up sand extraction for export, that will imply large ships must haul the stuff away to worldwide ports. “It is essential to emphasize that when you extract no matter pure useful resource, there can be environmental penalties,” says Bendixen. “However actually, right here the environmental penalties may be tremendous broad.”

For one, these large ships may also be bringing in ballast, or the water they’ve collected from elsewhere and saved of their hulls for stability. If that ballast is launched off the coast of Greenland, it might introduce invasive species. And, after all, dredging coastal sediments would additional endanger underwater native creatures—and on land, elevated mining operations may scare away the sport that Inuit hunters depend on. (Greenland’s inhabitants is about 90 percent indigenous Inuit. The Greenland department of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, an NGO representing Inuit peoples, declined to remark for this story.) 

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