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.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $8.67 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Rosing, M., Knudsen, R., Heinrich, J. & Rasmusen, L. To the Benefit of Greenland (University of Greenland Ilisimatusarfik, 2014).
Sutherland, W. J. et al. A 2017 Horizon scan of emerging issues for global conservation and biological diversity. Trends Ecol. Evol. 32, 31–40 (2017).
Rosen, J. Cold truths at the top of the world. Nature 532, 296–299 (2016).
Number of Graduations, 2003–2017 UDXISC11D07 (Statbank Greenland, Statistics Greenland, 2012); http://bank.stat.gl/pxweb/en/Greenland/Greenland__UD__UD60__UD6010/UDXISC11D.PX/?rxid=UDXISC11D07-06-2018%2016:24:03
Zeuthen, J. W. & Raftopoulos, M. Promises of hope or threats of domination: Chinese mining in Greenland. Extract. Ind. Soc. 5, 122–130 (2018).
Stedman, A. & Green, K. P. Survey of Mining Companies 1–72 (Fraser Insititute Annual, 2017).
Nuttall, M. Zero-tolerance, uranium and Greenland’s mining future. Polar J. 3, 368–383 (2013).
Bendixen, M. & Kroon, A. Conceptualizing delta forms and processes in Arctic coastal environments. Earth Surf. Proc. Land. 42, 1227–1237 (2017).
Bendixen, M. et al. Delta progradation in Greenland driven by increasing glacial mass loss. Nature 550, 101–104 (2017).
Galloway, W. E. & Hobday, D. K. Terrigenous Clastic Depositional Systems: Applications to Fossil Fuel and Groundwater Resources (Springer Science and Business Media, 2012).
Anthony, E. J. in Coastal Environments and Global Change (eds Masselink, G. & Gehrels, R.) Ch. 13, 299–237 (John Wiley and Sons, 2014).
Storms, J. E. A., de Winter, I. L., Overeem, I., Drijkoningen, G. G. & Lykke-Andersen, H. The Holocene sedimentary history of the Kangerlussuaq Fjord-valley fill, West Greenland. Quaternary Sci. Rev. 35, 29–50 (2012).
IPCC Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis (eds Stocker, T. F. et al.) (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013).
Kjeldsen, K. K. et al. Spatial and temporal distribution of mass loss from the Greenland Ice Sheet since AD 1900. Nature 528, 396–400 (2015).
Khan, S. A. et al. Greenland ice sheet mass balance: a review. Rep. Prog. Phys. 78, 046801 (2015).
Overeem, I. et al. Substantial export of suspended sediment to the global oceans from glacial erosion in Greenland. Nat. Geosci. 10, 859–863 (2017).
Meyssignac, B., Fettweis, X., Chevrier, R. & Spada, G. Regional sea level changes for the twentieth and the twenty-first centuries induced by the regional variability in greenland ice sheet surface mass loss. J. Clim. 30, 2011–2028 (2017).
Bjork, A. A. et al. An aerial view of 80 years of climate-related glacier fluctuations in southeast Greenland. Nat. Geosci. 5, 427–432 (2012).
Syvitski, J. P. & Saito, Y. Morphodynamics of deltas under the influence of humans. Glob. Planet. Change 57, 261–282 (2007).
Torres, A., Brandt, J., Lear, K. & Liu, J. G. A looming tragedy of the sand commons. Science 357, 970–971 (2017).
IPCC Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability Ch. 21–30 (eds Field, C. B. et al.) (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014).
Krausmann, F. et al. Global socioeconomic material stocks rise 23-fold over the 20th century and require half of annual resource use. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 114, 1880–1885 (2017).
Sverdrup, H. U., Koca, D. & Schlyter, P. A simple system dynamics model for the global production rate of sand, gravel, crushed rock and stone, market prices and long-term supply embedded into the WORLD6 model. Biophys. Econ. Res. Qual. 2, 8 (2017).
Kohler, S. Aggregate Availability in California (2012).
Danielsen, S. W., Kutznetzon, E. Environmental Impact and Sustainability in Aggregate Production and Use Vol. 7 (Springer, 2014).
Ascensão, F. et al. Environmental challenges for the Belt and Road Initiative. Nat. Sustain. 1, 206–209 (2018).
Brown, J. M. et al. The effectiveness of beach mega-nourishment, assessed over three management epochs. J. Environ. Manage. 184, 400–408 (2016).
de Schipper, M. A. et al. Initial spreading of a mega feeder nourishment: Observations of the Sand Engine pilot project. Coast. Eng. 111, 23–38 (2016).
Bendixen, M., Iversen, L. L. & Overeem, I. Greenland: build an economy on sand. Science 358, 879–879 (2017).
Boertmann, D. (ed.) Miljoe og raastoffer i Groenland (Aarhus Universitetsforlag, 2018).
Barnhart, K. R., Miller, C. R., Overeem, I. & Kay, J. E. Mapping the future expansion of Arctic open water. Nat. Clim. Change 6, 280–285 (2015).
Węsławski, J. M. et al. Climate change effects on Arctic fjord and coastal macrobenthic diversity—observations and predictions. Mar. Biodivers. 41, 71–85 (2011).
Slagstad, D., Ellingsen, I. & Wassmann, P. Evaluating primary and secondary production in an Arctic Ocean void of summer sea ice: an experimental simulation approach. Prog. Oceanogr. 90, 117–131 (2011).
Middelbo, A. B., Sejr, M. K., Arendt, K. E. & Møller, E. F. Impact of glacial meltwater on spatiotemporal distribution of copepods and their grazing impact in Young Sound NE, Greenland. Limnol. Oceanogr. 63, 322–336 (2018).
Hawkings, J. et al. The Greenland Ice Sheet as a hot spot of phosphorus weathering and export in the Arctic. Glob. Biogeochem. Cycles 30, 191–210 (2016).
Hawkings, J. R. et al. Ice sheets as a missing source of silica to the polar oceans. Nat. Commun. 8, 14198 (2017).
Kanna, N. et al. Upwelling of macronutrients and dissolved inorganic carbon by a subglacial freshwater driven plume in Bowdoin Fjord, northwestern Greenland. J. Geophys. Res. Biogeosci. 123, 1666–1682 (2018).
Meire, L. et al. Marine-terminating glaciers sustain high productivity in Greenland fjords. Glob. Change Biol. 23, 5344–5357 (2017).
Beaugrand, G., Edwards, M., Brander, K., Luczak, C. & Ibanez, F. Causes and projections of abrupt climate-driven ecosystem shifts in the North Atlantic. Ecol. Lett. 11, 1157–1168 (2008).
Beaugrand, G., Reid, P. C., Ibanez, F., Lindley, J. A. & Edwards, M. Reorganization of North Atlantic marine copepod biodiversity and climate. Science 296, 1692–1694 (2002).
Greene, C. H., Pershing, A. J., Cronin, T. M. & Ceci, N. Arctic climate change and its impacts on the ecology of the North Atlantic. Ecology 89, S24–S38 (2008).
Manap, N. & Voulvoulis, N. Environmental management for dredging sediments: the requirement of developing nations. J. Environ. Manage. 147, 338–348 (2015).
Erftemeijer, P. L. & Lewis, R. R. R. III Environmental impacts of dredging on seagrasses: a review. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 52, 1553–1572 (2006).
Erftemeijer, P. L., Riegl, B., Hoeksema, B. W. & Todd, P. A. Environmental impacts of dredging and other sediment disturbances on corals: a review. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 64, 1737–1765 (2012).
Krause-Jensen, D. & Duarte, C. M. Expansion of vegetated coastal ecosystems in the future Arctic. Front. Mar. Sci. 1, 77 (2014).
Duarte, C. M., Losada, I. J., Hendriks, I. E., Mazarrasa, I. & Marbà, N. The role of coastal plant communities for climate change mitigation and adaptation. Nat. Clim. Change 3, 961–968 (2013).
Ricciardi, A. et al. Invasion science: a horizon scan of emerging challenges and opportunities. Trends Ecol. Evol. 32, 464–474 (2017).
Everett, R. A., Miller, A. W. & Ruiz, G. M. Shifting sands could bring invasive species. Science 359, 878 (2018).
Jeppesen, E. et al. Living in an oasis: rapid transformations, resilience, and resistance in the North Water Area societies and ecosystems. Ambio 47, 296–309 (2018).
Jervelund, C. & Fredslund, N. C. Fiskeriets Økonomiske Fodaftryk i Grønland (Copenhagen Economics, 2013); http://www.ga.gl/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=HG%2F%2BIjJ2KK%20o%3D&tabid=36&language=da-DK
Ren, C. & Chimirri, D. Arctic tourism — More than an Industry? The Arctic Institute (3 April 2018).
Fennell, D. A. Ecotourism 4th edn (Routledge, 2014).
Weaver, D. B. & Lawton, L. J. in Arctic Tourism Experiences: Production, Consumption and Sustainability (eds Lee, Y.-S., Weaver, D. & Prebensen, N. K.) (CABI, 2017).
Greenland Tourism Statistics (Statistics Greenland, Visit Greenland, accessed 1 January 2019); http://www.tourismstat.gl/
World Heritage List (UNESCO, accessed 1 January 2019); https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/?search=Greenland&id_sites=&id_states=&id_search_region=&id_search_by_synergy_protection=&id_search_by_synergy_element=&search_yearinscribed=&themes=&criteria_restrication=&id_keywords=&type=&media=&order=country&description=
Hansen, C. O., Groensedt, P., Graversen, C. L. & Hendriksen, C. Arctic Shipping: Commercial Opportunities and Challenges (CBS Maritime, 2016).
Young, O. R. Arctic tipping points: governance in turbulent times. Ambio 41, 75–84 (2012).
Rosa, I. M. D. et al. Multiscale scenarios for nature futures. Nat. Ecol. Evol. 1, 1416–1419 (2017).
Ostrom, E. A General framework for analyzing sustainability of social-ecological systems. Science 325, 419–422 (2009).
Gius, F., Busch, L. L. & Miller, R. V. Update of Mineral Land Classification: Portland Cement Concrete-Grade Aggregate in the Western San Diego County Production Comsumption Region, California (California Geological Survey, 2017).
FACT SHEET: Atlantic Coast of New York City, East Rockaway Inlet to Rockaway Inlet (Rockaway Beach) and Jamaica Bay. US Army Corps of Engineers (accessed 1 January 2019); http://www.nan.usace.army.mil/Media/Fact-Sheets/Fact-Sheet-Article-View/Article/487597/fact-sheet-atlantic-coast-of-new-york-city-east-rockaway-inlet-to-rockaway-inle/
Beach Nourishment at Coney Island PBS (29 October 2019); https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/beach-nourishment-at-coney-island
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.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
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
Journal of Building Engineering (2020)
Science Progress (2019)
Journal of Plant Nutrition and Soil Science (2019)
Opinion: To advance sustainable stewardship, we must document not only biodiversity but geodiversity
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2019)