Humanosity says….It’s hard to believe that sand is a precious commodity. Looking at the world’s deserts you’d think we had plenty of the stuff. However, that’s the wrong sand. The sand everyone wants is on our beaches and ocean floors and people have died for it. This great article goes into why we are running out of sand…..
For many people sand is a part of their escapist dreams. Paradise is a beach. I spent a memorable part of my youth hanging out at Paradise Beach Bar. There are websites dedicated to finding the perfect beach, that piece of pristine sand, often flanked by lush tropical plants.
According to the Guardian, the naturalist Desmond Morris reckons that as we are descended from water-loving apes, we are hard-wired to search out such locations and equate them with paradise.
Whilst his theories may not stand up to scientific scrutiny today it’s a good indication of the revered place sand has in most westerners minds. You only have to look at the myth of Lawrence of Arabia to see that even deserts, one of the toughest environments on the planet, aren’t immune from being romanticised.
When astronomers seek to impress upon us the size of the universe, they speak of stars being more numerous than grains of sand. There are quite a few grains, as it happens – 7.5 x 10 to the 18th power, according to researchers at the University of Hawaii. That’s 7 quintillions, 500 quadrillion – give or take the odd trillion.
You would think that such a mind-numbingly large number would mean that we have plenty of sand to go round. But the truth is not all sand is the same and the world is running out of the most useful types.
We extract enough sand each year to build a wall 27m wide and 27m tall that could wrap around the equator. The only commodity we extract more of is water. Although it’s in glass, electronics, even fracking, construction is the biggest consumer of sand. As China and India boom so does the demand for sand.
But what of those oceans of sand stretching from the Atlantic to the Persian Gulf – the Sahara and the Arabian Desert? The wrong kind of sand, unfortunately. Wind action in deserts results in rounded grains that are too smooth and too small to bind well in concrete. Builders like angular sand of the kind found on riverbeds. Sand, sand everywhere, nor any grain to use, to paraphrase Coleridge. A textbook example is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the world’s tallest skyscraper. Despite being surrounded by sand, it was constructed with concrete incorporating the “right kind of sand” from Australia.
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