Melting glaciers in Greenland are throwing out huge amounts of sand

(ORDO NEWS) — Meltwater from the island’s ice sheet contains the sand needed to make concrete, further warming the planet. Sand is both common and rare.

This special grade is an essential component of concrete used in buildings and infrastructure, and its production has exploded exponentially over the past few decades. This comes at a significant climate cost: The industry today accounts for 8 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions.

Sand is also at the center of a strange climatic history. Climate change is destroying the Greenland ice sheet, producing extraordinary amounts of meltwater. (Even if we stopped emissions completely today, the melting of Greenland could raise sea levels by almost 30cm.)

And, by the will of fate, the sand necessary for the production of concrete gets into this melt water, which leads to even more warming and even more melting.

Huge plumes of glacial deposits move along the coast, effectively adding land along the edges of the island. Even though Greenland is only three times the size of Texas, its ice sheet is the source of 8 percent of the suspended river sediments that enter the oceans.

Melting glaciers in Greenland are throwing out huge amounts of sand 1

The country now has to determine whether exploiting this valuable and rich resource on a larger scale would be environmentally, socially and economically sustainable.

“It’s pretty debatable – we’re saying that Greenland could benefit from climate change,” says Mette Bendiksen, a geographer at McGill University in Canada who is studying the idea.

“Unlike most other parts of the Arctic coast, Greenland is not collapsing. In fact, it is getting bigger because the ice sheet is melting. So you can think of the ice sheet as a faucet that not only pours water, but all precipitation.”

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These rainfall are really special. Desert sand from, say, the Sahara is not suitable for making concrete because it is too round and uniform.

For thousands of years, the winds have driven these grains, polishing them. If you make concrete out of this sand, “it’s almost like building out of marble,” says Bendiksen.

“You want particles that are more angular than round. And that’s the sort of material you can get, for example, from rivers or from material deposited by glaciers.”

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