Grains of Sand: Too Much and Never Enough – EOS Magazine

Sand dunes in Kernel - Sydney, Australia (by Bea Pierce CC BY-NC 2.0 via Flickr).

Sand is a foundational element of our cities, our homes, our landscapes and seascapes. How we will interact with the material in the future, however, is less certain.

Smartphone screens, wine bottles, and porcelain toilets share a surprising ingredient: sand. In fact, the ubiquitous material is the second most exploited natural resource on Earth, after water.

Most sand pours into the construction industry, which in turn pours much of it into concrete. “Sand is the most mined solid material on Earth, and we’re using more and more sand as we’re becoming more and more people,” said Mette Bendixen, a physical geographer at McGill University in Montreal.

“The use of sand is now faced with two major challenges,” said Xiaoyang Zhong, a doctoral student in environmental science at Leiden University in the Netherlands. “One is that it has caused enormous consequences in the environment,” he explained. “The second challenge is that easily usable sand resources are running out in many regions…”

Still sandy after all these years

When oceanographer Serge Andréfouet first saw a satellite image of the Great Bahama Bank, he knew the colors and contours were special. There are many nice seagrass and sand patterns worldwide, but none like this anywhere on Earth,

Sand dunes can ‘communicate’ with each other

Even though they are inanimate objects, sand dunes can ‘communicate’ with each other. A team from the University of Cambridge has found that as they move, sand dunes interact with and repel their downstream neighbors.

The sound of the sand from the Dutch shores

Sand, it turns out, has a signature sound of its own, and now scientists have found a way to tune in. In this study, scientists examine sand from the Dutch shores to link its unique acoustic traits to the source of the sand.