Promises and perils of sand exploitation in Greenland

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Ice flow dynamics of the Greenland ice sheet control the production of sediment. Future acceleration in glacial flow and ice sheet melt will amplify Greenland’s supply of sediment to the coastal zone. Globally, sand and gravel reserves are rapidly depleting while the demand is increasing, largely due to urban expansion, infrastructural improvements and the enhancement of coastal protection in response to climate change. Here, we show that an abundance of sand and gravel provides an opportunity for Greenland to become a global exporter of aggregates and relieve the increasing global demand. The changing Arctic conditions help pave a sustainable way for the country towards economic independence. This way, Greenland could benefit from the challenges brought by climate change. Such exploitation of sand requires careful assessment of the environmental impact and must be implemented in collaboration with the Greenlandic society.

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Fig. 1: Suspended sediment loads delivered by the GrIS.
Fig. 2: Drivers of global sand demand and local geomorphologic dynamics creating previously unknown sand resources in Greenland.
Fig. 3: Global sand shortage and market prices.


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M.B., A.A.B. and L.L.I. were funded by The Carlsberg Foundation (grants CF17-0323, CF17-0529 and CF17-0155). A.K. was funded by the Danish National Research Foundation (CENPERM DNRF100). M.T.R received support from The Novo Nordisk Foundation (NNF16SH0020278). I.O. thanks the University of Colorado for a 2018 Research & Innovative Seed Grant on Sediment Fluxes from Greenland.

Author information

M.B. and L.L.I. framed the Perspective and together with I.O. collected the data presented here. L.L.I. and A.G.Z. produced the graphics. M.B. and L.L.I. wrote the manuscript with contributions and inputs from all authors.

Correspondence to Mette Bendixen.

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Bendixen, M., Overeem, I., Rosing, M.T. et al. Promises and perils of sand exploitation in Greenland. Nat Sustain 2, 98–104 (2019) doi:10.1038/s41893-018-0218-6

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