As climate change melts Greenland's glaciers and deposits more fluvial sediment on its banks, an international group of researchers has identified an unforeseen economic opportunity for the Arctic nation: exporting sand and gravel abroad, where there is a great demand for raw materials for infrastructure.
The unconventional but potentially lucrative solution was developed by CU Boulder scientists, the University of Copenhagen, Arizona State University and the Rhode Island School of Design. Their findings were published today in the journal. Sustainability of nature.
"The melting of the Greenland ice sheet delivers an enormous amount of sediment to the coast," said Mette Bendixen, a researcher at the Arctic and Alpine Research Institute of CU Boulder (INSTAAR) and a researcher at the Carlsberg Foundation. "Eight percent of the annual contribution of sediment delivered to the global oceans comes from the Greenland ice sheet and, due to continued global warming, this number is expected to increase."
Arctic nations, such as Greenland, are struggling against the current effects of climate change, in particular overconfidence in now vulnerable commercial fisheries and some other large industries. Greenland has sought to diversify its economy for years through mining, oil extraction and tourism, but progress has been slow; the country still reports an unemployment rate of 10 percent and a persistent income deficit.
Simultaneously, global reserves of sand have been rapidly depleted in recent decades, while demand has only increased thanks to global urbanization and investments in infrastructure. The study estimates that the amount of sand delivered to the Greenland coast each year has a market value equivalent to more than half of Greenland's gross domestic product ($ 2.22 billion in 2015) and this value is expected to double within of the next 25 years if the The prices of the sand continue to rise.
"With this work, we present a rare example of economic opportunity brought to life by climate change," said Irina Overeem, CU Boulder associate professor and INSTAAR researcher.
However, the exploitation of the sand could be controversial, as it would potentially interfere with the pristine arctic landscape. The study recommends a careful evaluation of the environmental impact and implementation in collaboration with Greenlandic society.
"If Greenland is going to benefit from sand mining, we must raise awareness about the resource both locally and globally," said Minik Rosing, a professor at the Danish Museum of Natural History at the University of Copenhagen. "The people of Greenland must be part of this, Greenland has rigorous resource legislation and authorities and industry must work together to minimize the possible negative impacts of extraction on the environment."
"When we started our research, we had no idea that our results would encourage the idea of establishing a sand mining industry in Greenland," said Lars L. Iversen, a researcher at the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Sustainability Institute at Arizona State University. "It simply shows how unpredictable science can be and how we have to constantly think about how our work contributes to solving the global challenges we face."
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Promises and dangers of the exploitation of sand in Greenland, Sustainability of nature (2019). DOI: 10.1038 / s41893-018-0218-6, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41893-018-0218-6