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lundi 5 août 2013

A World Of Sand

Rebecca Willis considers the tiny particles:

“Sand”, [geologist Michael Welland] says, “sculpts the landscapes of our planet and reveals the history of the Earth.” Without it, there would be “no concrete, no glass, no silicon chips and a lot less jewellery”. It is hard to conceive of modern life without sand—and therein lies a problem: we are using sand faster than the planet can replenish it.

“We think of sand as something that’s just there,” he says, “but it is not a sustainable resource.” Whole islands are being wiped off the map as man develops the planet, especially by making concrete and extracting valuable minerals. Fracking—the great energy hope of the moment—devours vast quantities of sand. And most of the world’s beaches are undergoing erosion—partly from natural causes and partly because civilisation in coastal areas is “completely perturbing the natural balance of a highly complex system, by removing dunes, building breakwaters, and replacing sand that is removed … with the wrong kind of sand”.

Welland hoped his book would surprise the reader—and it does—but some of his findings surprised him, too. “The microscopic life in between the grains on the beach is truly astonishing.” Tiny invertebrates called meiofauna live there. “If you pick up a handful of wet sand at the beach, you are holding a miniature zoo. And these little critters keep the bad bacteria on the beach under control and relatively odourless for us. The diversity of life in the spaces between the grains of sand is greater than the diversity in the rainforest.” Beach sand is, literally, full of surprises.

(Photo: The dunes outside Provincetown, MA)

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