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Greenland could advance economic prosperity through sand

Photo: Anders Anker Bjørk

Researchers funded by the Carlsberg Foundation argue, that due to the melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet huge deposits of sand along the coast appear and offer a new and unforeseen economic opportunity for the Arctic people.

With the melting of the Greenlandic ice sheet not only problems but also new opportunities arise. The melting of the ice results in the emergence of large amounts of sand along the coast of Greenland. Since sand is highly demanded globally due to urbanization and the demand for infrastructure improvements, Greenland stands with a new and unprecedented resource that could potentially benefit the country as both the demand and market prices will rise further in the coming years.

Together with an international group of scientists working in the Arctic regions, the Carlsberg Foundation research fellows Mette Bendixen and Lars Lønsmann Iversen have published a paper in Nature Sustainability discussing the promises and perils of sand exploitation in Greenland.

“The research we have conducted along the coast of Greenland has shown that the melting Greenland Ice Sheet delivers enormous amount of sediments to the coast. Approximately 8 percent of the annual sediment contribution delivered to the global oceans comes from the Greenland Ice Sheet and with continued global warming this number is expected to increase,” says Mette Bendixen from the University of Colorado, Boulder.

On the study, the chairman of the Carlsberg Foundation, Flemming Besenbacher, says:

“There is good reason to congratulate the two postdoctoral fellows Mette Bendixen and Lars Lønsmann Iversen on the interesting study in Nature Sustainability. The work of these researchers is an excellent example of how science generates new knowledge, which is not only interesting in scientific environments, but can also be of great use to society, and in this way, contributing to solving the global challenges. It will be interesting to see how the article will be received among researchers, nature conservation managers, politicians and among the Greenlandic people.

Market value equivalent to more than half of the Greenland gross domestic product

The amount of sand delivered to the coast of Greenland each year has a market value equivalent to more than half of the Greenland gross domestic product ($2.22 billion in 2015) and this value is expected to double within the next 25 years if the global sand prices continue to increase.

“With this work, we present a rare example of economic opportunities brought to life by climate change. Climate change brings so many challenges to the people living in the Arctic, but this, for a change, is a potential for an economic gain. As long as climate change is present, a continuous supply of sediment will be available for exploitation,” says Mette Bendixen.

Lars Lønsmann Iversen from Arizona State University says:

“When we started our research on sediment deposits in Greenland, we had no idea that our results would foster the idea of establishing a sand mining industry in Greenland. It just shows how unpredictable science can be and how we constantly have to think about how our work contribute to solve the global challenges that we face.”

The Greenlandic people must be heard

Sand exploitation could be controversial as it interferes with the idea of the pristine Arctic landscape. Exploitation of sand thus requires careful assessment of the environmental impact and must be implemented in collaboration with the Greenlandic society. The major part of the sand from the Greenland Ice Sheet comes from a handful of outlets in the south western part of the country and a national implementation plan will be essential if sand mining shall benefit the entire Greenlandic population.

“If Greenland is to benefit from sand extraction, we must raise awareness about the resource both locally and globally. The Greenlandic people must be part of this, and the industry must guarantee that extraction methods minimize potential negative impacts on the local environment,” says co-author Minik Rosing, professor at the University of Copenhagen.

Read 'The promises and perils of sand exploitation in Greenland'

Learn more about Mette Bendixen and her Carlsberg Foundation supported research

Learn more about Lars Lønsmann Iversen and his Carlsberg Foundation supported research

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