OSLO (Reuters) – Greenland could start exporting sand in a rare positive spinoff from global warming, which melts the island's huge ice and washes large amounts of sediment in the sea, researchers say Monday.
Quantity of sand and gravel, which is widely used in the construction industry, can increase the economy of Greenland's 56,000 inhabitants, which have large self-regulatory powers in Denmark, but are heavily dependent on subsidies from Copenhagen.
In mining, "Greenland could take advantage of the challenges that accompany climate change", wrote a team of researchers in Denmark and the United States in the journal Nature Sustainability.
The study, entitled "Promises and dangers of exploitation of sand in Greenland", said that the Arctic island would have to assess the risks of coastal mining, especially for fishing.
Increasing global temperatures melt in the Greenlandic ice, blocking enough water to raise the global sea level by about seven meters if it ever thaws and transports more sand and gravel to the coastal fjords.
"You can think of it (melting ice) as a pressure expelling sediment to the coast," says lead author Mette Bendixen, a researcher at the University of Colorado's Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research.
Worldwide demand for sand amounted to about 9.55 billion tonnes in 2017 with a market value of $ 99.5 billion and is expected to reach nearly $ 481 billion by 2100, driven by rising demand and probably shortage, the survey said.
It meant a rare opportunity for the island.
"The Arctic people are usually among those who really feel climate change – the erosive coast, less permafrost," Bendixen said. "This is a unique situation due to melting ice sheets."
David Boertmann from Aarhus University, who was not involved in the study, said that there was already some local mining of sand to the domestic construction industry in Greenland.
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The downside for Greenland, which is common to other mining projects on the island, ranging from uranium to rare earth minerals, includes the distance to the markets in Europe and North America, he said.
Nevertheless, Bendixen said that sand was often transported long distances, such as to Los Angeles from Vancouver or from Australia to Dubai.
"Currently, it's a cheap resource, but it's getting more expensive," she said.
The study said sand and gravel could also be used in the future to strengthen beaches and coastlines with the risk of rising sea levels, partly due to Greenland's thawing.