There's A Global Sand Shortage? Here's What One Idaho Professor Is Doing About It

Oct 16, 2017

Turns out, sand might not be as abundant as you'd think.
Credit C. C. Chapman / Flickr Creative Commons

When we think of finite resources, it’s not likely that sand comes to mind. But according to new research from Jodi Brandt at Boise State, a global sand shortage could have big implications for growing communities like the Treasure Valley.

Brandt focuses on environmental problems using social and natural science. Recently, she’s been documenting the disappearance of sand and what it means.

“We put a lot of effort into understanding those kind of proximate impacts of urbanization," says Brandt, "but what we haven’t really paid much attention to is that all of this material to build these cities has to come from somewhere.”

Along with gravel, sand is a key element of building materials like concrete and asphalt. It’s also used to make windows, consumer technology like smartphones, and is necessary for extraction of natural gas through hydraulic fracturing – also known as fracking. There's another significant problem for sandy beach lovers:

“These hurricanes that have recently happened have caused a lot of coastal erosion," explains Brandt, "so massive amounts of sand will need to be shipped into these areas to kind of recuperate those shorelines.”

Brandt says trying to find a solution to the shortage is not a simple task, because an inexpensive supply of material that could serve the same purpose has not been found.

“Currently there is no economically viable alternative to sand.”

Brandt says just like we monitor forests for tree health and more, we should monitor sandy places. The next step in her research will be to quantify how much sand is available in the world – and what it can be used for.

Support for environmental reporting on Boise State Public Radio comes in part from the Larry & Pam Cardinale Preservation Fund.

Find reporter Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill

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