Can Greenland’s changing coast play a role in solving the global scarcity of sand?
Dr. Mette Bendixen, Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography, McGill University.
Sand is a key ingredient in the recipe of modern life, and yet it might be our most overlooked natural resource. Rapid urbanization and global population growth have fueled the demand for sand and gravel and these resources are rapidly depleting while need is increasing, largely due to urban expansion, infrastructural improvements, and land reclamation. Between 32 and 50 billion tons are extracted globally every year and both consumption and prices are expected to rise in the future.
In the Arctic, climate change is particularly pronounced causing the landscape and the coastal areas to change. In Greenland, one of the main actors changing the morphology is the Greenland ice sheet. As it loses its mass, ice flow dynamics transport not only meltwater, but also vast amounts of sediment through the landscape to be deposited at the coast. As a consequence, the Greenland deltas have prograded significantly since the 1980’s, expanding the coastal areas. The supply of sediment to the coast is so massive that it could serve as potential source of material for the global construction market. 15% of Greenland's rivers transport 80% of the total riverine sediment load, meaning that a few river outlets are hotspots of sediment transport.
Exploiting the sediment in Greenland by setting up a sand industry could potentially act as a new way to diversify and strengthen the country’s economy. But the consequences for the Greenland nature and society in general are still unknown – and until now, Indigenous voices have not been heard. In this talk, I will discuss how climate-induced geomorphologic changes in the Arctic potentially can relieve some of the pressure on the world’s sand resources.
The Earth Science Colloquium Series, sponsored by Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Columbia University Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences (DEES), provides a lively forum for discussing a wide variety of topics within the Earth sciences and related fields. Colloquia are attended by the full range of scientific and technical staff at LDEO. Colloquium attendance is required of all pre-orals DEES graduate students. The Colloquium Series supports the Lamont Seminar Diversity Initiative.