Researchers say the world faces a sand crisis as skyrocketing demand for the building material leads to the destruction of coastal environments and marine life.
(From NewsDeeply/ by Aurora Torres, Jianguo “Jack” Liu, Jodi Brandt, Kristen Lear) — When people picture sand spread across idyllic beaches and endless deserts, they understandably think of it as an infinite resource. But as we discuss in a just-published perspective in the journal Science, overexploitation of global supplies of sand is damaging the environment, endangering communities, causing shortages and promoting violent conflict.
Skyrocketing demand, combined with unfettered mining to meet it, is creating the perfect recipe for shortages. Plentiful evidence strongly suggests that sand is becoming increasingly scarce in many regions. For example, in Vietnam domestic demand for sand exceeds the country’s total reserves. If this mismatch continues, the country may run out of construction sand by 2020, according to recent statements from the country’s Ministry of Construction.
This problem is rarely mentioned in scientific discussions and has not been systemically studied. Media attention drew us to this issue. While scientists are making a great effort to quantify how infrastructure systems such as roads and buildings affect the habitats that surround them, the impacts of extracting construction minerals such as sand and gravel to build those structures have been overlooked. Two years ago we created a working group designed to provide an integrated perspective on global sand use.
In our view, it is essential to understand what happens at the places where sand is mined, where it is used and many impacted points in between in order to craft workable policies. We are analyzing those questions through a systems integration approach that allows us to better understand socioeconomic and environmental interactions over distances and time. Based on what we have already learned, we believe it is time to develop international conventions to regulate sand mining, use and trade.
Sand and gravel are now the most-extracted materials in the world, exceeding fossil fuels and biomass (measured by weight). Sand is a key ingredient for concrete, roads, glass and electronics. Massive amounts of sand are mined for land reclamation projects, shale gas extraction and beach renourishment programs. Recent floods in Houston, India, Nepal and Bangladesh will add to growing global demand for sand.
In 2010, nations mined about 11 billion metric tons of sand just for construction. Extraction rates were highest in the Asia-Pacific region, followed by Europe and North America. In the United States alone, production and use of construction sand and gravel was valued at $8.9billion in 2016, and production has increased by 24 percent in the past five years.
Moreover, we have found that these numbers grossly underestimate global sand extraction and use. According to government agencies, uneven record-keeping in many countries may hide real extraction rates. Official statistics widely underreport sand use and typically do not include nonconstruction purposes such as hydraulic fracturing and beach nourishment.
Sand traditionally has been a local product. However, regional shortages and sand mining bans in some countries are…..