14 February 2019

Greenland could advance economic prosperity through sand


Recent advances in the understanding of sand deposits along the coast of Greenland show that river sediments transported through the melting of the Greenland ice sheet offer a new and unforeseen economic opportunity for the arctic people.

Photo: Nicolaj Krog Larsen

Simultaneously, the global sand reserves are rapidly depleting while the need for sand is increasing. Future urbanization and massive infrastructure improvements will further intensify our need for sand, and scarcity is expected to increase global sand demand and market prices. Innovative and alternate solutions are needed to overcome the negative sociopolitical, economic, and environmental implications related to this sand crisis.

Together with an international group of scientists working in the Arctic regions, the Carlsberg foundation research fellows and former CENPERM researchers Mette Bendixen and Lars L. Iversen have published a paper in Nature Sustainability discussing the promises and perils of sand exploitation in Greenland. Aart Kroon from CENPERM is one of the co-authors of the study.

The research we have conducted along the coast of Greenland has shown that the melting Greenland Ice Sheet delivers enormous amount of sediments to the coast. ~8% of the of the annual sediment contribution delivered to the global oceans comes from the Greenland Ice Sheet and with continued global warming this number is expected to increase.” says Mette Bendixen from the University of Colorado, Boulder.

The amount of sand delivered to the coast of Greenland each year has a market value equivalent to more than half of the Greenland gross domestic product ($2.22 billion in 2015) and this value is expected to double within the next 25 years if the global sand prices continue to increase.

“There is a yet unknown economic possibility originating from climate changes here. Global change brings a number of challenges for the Arctic people, but in this case there is an opportunity to benefit from the changes. Under a warmer climate, the ice sheet will continue to forward large amounts of sand to the coastal areas” says associate professor Aart Kroon from CENPERM, who co-authored the publication.

Sand exploitation could be controversial as it interferes with the pristine Arctic landscape. Such exploitation of sand requires careful assessment of the environmental impact and must be implemented in collaboration with the Greenlandic society. The majority of the sand from the Greenland Ice Sheet comes from a handful of outlets in the south western part of the country and a national implementation plans will be essential if sand mining shall benefit the entire Greenlandic population.

 “If Greenland is to benefit from sand extraction, we must raise awareness about the resource both locally and globally. The Greenlandic people must be part of this. Greenland has a rigorous resource legislation and authorities and industry must collaborate to minimize potential negative impacts of extraction on the environment.” says co-author Minik Rosing, Professor from University of Copenhagen.

Bendixen M., Overeem I., Rosing M., Bjørk A.A., Kjær K.H., Kroon A., Zeitz G., & Iversen L.L. (2019): Promises and perils of sand exploitation in Greenland. Nature Sustainability, 2, 98-104. DOI: 10.1038/s41893-018-0218-6

link: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41893-018-0218-6