Sand is an overlooked natural resource that we usually associate with deserts and beaches! But, what if someone said, “Sand is actually crucial in the running of our daily lives” would you believe them? Or, what if someone told you, “That glass you’re using to drink your nice cold beverage was once sand”, would you say they were right? There are so many things that you don’t know about this humble, grainy material, but alas we’re here to help! Let us amuse you with our 50 facts about sand.
Fact 1: Sugar can actually be considered as sand. This is because they both have a similar grain size.
- Sand grains are usually considered to have a diameter no smaller than 0.0625 mm and no bigger than 2 mm.
Fact 2: White sand, made from Gypsum, is an incredibly rare type of sand that was created over 280 million years ago.
- Gypsum is a soft sulfate mineral that is composed of calcium sulfate dihydrate. It is used as a fertilizer and is the main component in creating drywall, plaster, blackboard, and chalk. Gypsum sand can only be found in a select few places across the world, one of those places is White Sands, New Mexico in the U.S.A.
Fact 3: Sand is defined by the size of its grains. The next size up from sand grain is gravel.
- Gravel can be anything from 2mm to 64mm in diameter.
Fact 4: We are running out of usable sand due to the insistent global need for concrete.
- We are using sand far faster than erosion and weathering can replace it.
Fact 5: Because of the high demand for sand worldwide, an illegal sand black market has emerged.
- In a report done in 2013, this questionable sand bidding earned more than $200 million in a year.
Fact 6: A big fraction of sand usage goes to the construction industry – They consume more than 50 billion tons of sand to create concrete annually.
- To put that in perspective for you, that’s about 25,000,000 times the weight of your average family car.
Fact 7: A sand-like material is found on the surface of Mars.
- Viking 1, the first-ever spacecraft to land on Mars, took a photo of the surface soon after landing. This photo showed the telltale grainy texture of sand particles. You can see the photo here.
Fact 8: Sand is highly abrasive.
- So much so that sand, or sand variants, are used for industrial grinding and polishing.
Fact 9: Sandblasting uses the natural abrasive nature of sand to clean metals and other materials.
- Sandblasting is basically the act of pumping dry sand down a hosepipe at high speeds and pointing the onrushing sand at a surface you wish to clean.
Fact 10: There is no exact definition of what sand is!
- Even though the grain size is defined, there is no other way to distinguish sand from other fine particle materials. For example, under the current definition of sand, table salt would be considered sand.
Fact 11: Sand is used extensively in agriculture to help make soil porous.
- Some crops that are perfect for sandy soils include watermelons and peanuts.
Fact 12: Sand is used, along with clay and a few other additives, to make bricks.
- By volume, some bricks can be as much as 75% sand. That means most of your house, and most of the buildings that make up the world, are just sand.
Fact 13: There is a Sand Mafia in India.
- They are known for importing and exporting sand throughout the country. Additionally, like most Mafioso, they conduct business with brutal and often violent methods.
Fact 14: Because of the huge demand for sand worldwide, sand is often shipped around the world in giant sand barges.
- There are many island nations with no natural sand resources, like Singapore and Switzerland.
Fact 15: Governments often import sand, not for building but for dumping on their beaches in a process called “Beach Nourishment”.
- Many beaches around the world are slowly disappearing through erosion weathering. But an even bigger threat to beaches is coastal infill. This is when barges collect sand out in a bay which leaves an underwater gap. The beach sand then slowly slides away from the beach into the bay to fill in the gap.
Fact 16: A single grain of sand can host a community of different microbes and bacteria.
- Astonishingly, research has shown that your average sand grain has over 1 billion bacteria on its surface!
Fact 17: Sand temperature determines the gender of baby sea turtles.
- Cooler sand produces more males, while warmer sand produces more females. This phenomenon is called Temperature-Dependent Sex Determination (TSD) which is also applicable to other reptiles like alligators.
Fact 18: Although the desert sand resource is abundant, this particular sand variety is not suitable for concrete.
- Desert sand has fine grains; it’s more like a grainy powder compared to those coarser varieties you find on the beaches.
Fact 19: Sand can only melt at a scorching temperature of 1700°C (3090°F).
- That’s why you don’t see sand melting on beaches!
Fact 20: Engine drivers and rail transport operators use sand to improve the traction of their vehicles’ wheels when travelling on rails.
- Most locomotives and trams have a sandbox. It is a container that holds sand, which is dropped on wet and slippery rails, and it is also used on steep grades to help gain more traction.
Fact 21: Digging up sand can contaminate the groundwater and may also drive it deeper underground.
- The demand for sand has caused significant concern to farmers and other natural resource production industries. Farmers in Sri Lanka are finding it difficult to find clean and suitable water to grow their crops.
Fact 22: Sand is regularly used, along with salt, in countries like the UK in winter to give extra traction for the vehicles travelling on the roads during icy conditions.
- Salt may help melt an icy road, but sand helps prevent vehicle tires from slipping on slick roads. As a result, drivers can drive safely during icy, cold weather.
Fact 23: It is said that there are way more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on earth!
- Your average cubic meter of sand has fewer grains than the number of stars in a typical spiral galaxy. There are about 100 billions of stars in the galaxy.
Fact 24: Playing with sand is a favorite beach time activity.
- Sand makes any beach trip way more fun! Building sandcastles, digging in the sand, and playing hopscotch are just some of the sandy traditional games we love.
Fact 25: It may look like the world has an abundant source of sand, but it is a finite natural resource that takes centuries to form.
- It is similar to that of fossil fuels – The world had plenty of these natural resources before humans quickly consumed them. The U.N. Environmental Program revealed in 2014 that sand mining caused “unequivocal” environmental concerns.
Fact 26: Glass is made primarily of liquid sand.
- Heating ordinary sand will melt and become a liquid. Such liquid can then turn into a glass.
Fact 27: In Hydrofracturing, sand is an important component used to hold open the cracks.
- Hydrofracturing, or hydraulic fracturing, is the process where the deep-rocks formation is injected with ‘fracking fluids’ to create cracks so petroleum, natural gas, and brine will flow more freely. When the hydraulic pressure is removed from the well, they release ‘proppant’ to keep the cracks open.
Fact 28: Silica is the most common material that is mistaken as sand.
- Silica is made from tiny broken pieces of quartz crystals.
Fact 29: The world’s largest sandcastle up to date stands 16.68m tall!
- It was made by Skulptura Projects GmbH (Germany), in Binz, Germany, on 5 June 2019. This huge sandcastle took 11,000 tonnes of sand mixed only with water!
Fact 30: The Sahara Desert is composed of approximately 9.0×1014 m3 of sand.
- That’s 900,000,000,000,000, or 900 trillion cubic meters of sand!
Fact 31: No beach has the same sand!
- Sand forensic experts reveal that each beach has a unique set of sand. They can sometimes tell from the minerals present, and other distinct features like grain sizes, where a particular sample of sand came from.
Fact 32: Sand is also used in paint.
- This causes its textured appearance.
Fact 33: Lake Poyang is the largest sand mine in the world.
- It is found in the Yangtze River in China, which is the longest river in Asia and the third-longest in the world.
Fact 34: You can hear the ‘sand whistle’, and other odd sounds in certain parts of the world where lots of sand is present.
- This is caused by the collective movement of billions of grains of sand as the dunes move.
Fact 35: Sand is usually made from a material that is broken down into tiny pieces by water that contains certain minerals.
- This leads to the formation of a special type of sand grain called ‘oolith’.
Fact 36: Dune 7 is the tallest sand dune in the world!
- Dune 7 can be found in Namibia, Africa. It’s nearly 400 meters tall, that makes it taller than the Eiffel Tower!
Fact 37: Mining of sandy places forces plants and animals out of their habitats.
- Fish and mammals are threatened by this rampant disturbance in their natural habitat, and it encourages the endangerment of many species, like the Yangtze finless porpoise and the now-extinct Yangtze river dolphin.
Fact 38: In 2016, a study revealed that sand samples, collected from shoes, can help identify where a person might have walked.
- This is a great contribution to the field of forensics. Since sand is unique and specific to a particular place, sand samples from a person’s shoes can help trace their whereabouts, and can provide evidence in an investigation.
Fact 39: There are approximately 200,000 km of beaches on earth.
- But this number is very hard to tie down as beaches constantly shift and change in size throughout the year.
Fact 40: Palythoa, is a genus of anthozoans (corals), that can be made up of about 65% sand.
- Such sand is used in building their frame. Hence, corals and other species under this genus are more resilient to climate change effects, like ocean acidification.
Fact 41: Sand is often used in children’s play areas becuase it’s able to cushion accidental trips.
- However, in a lot of play parks, you’ll also see wood-chips being used.
Fact 42: Molding or foundry sand, when moistened, heated, compressed, or oiled, can hold its shape well.
- Sand used in casting must be able to tolerate high pressures, temperatures, and they must be non-reactive with metals.
Fact 43: Since the early years, sandbags have been a great tool in preventing floods, and protecting oneself from gunfire.
- Sandbags are cheaper and easier to transport in an emergency.
Fact 44: You can filter your water with sand.
- Sand is often used in water filtration, but it can sometimes be accompanied by other minerals and stones.
Fact 45: People use sand in development and urbanization.
- The demand for sand increases every year to accommodate the ballooning population. Sand mining is becoming more rampant for this reason mainly.
Fact 46: There’s a legend about Cleopatra’s Beach, which states that Mark Antony had sand shipped from Egypt to create this spectacular place.
- Cleopatra’s Beach is one of the stunning stretches of white sand beaches in Turkey. The oolitic sand from this beach is similar to the sand found on the coast of Alexandria, in Egypt (which is the only place in the Mediterranean where these particular ooids occur in heaps).
Fact 47: A French couple is facing 6 years in jail for sand theft.
- They were caught with 14 plastic bottles filled with a total of 40kg of sand, from the Sardinia beach. They face fines of up to $3,330 too.
Fact 48: Sand mining increases coastal erosion, making certain areas more prone to tsunamis.
- Sand is a natural buffer from the deadly waves. With coastal erosion, it makes places more vulnerable to tsunamis.
Fact 49: During the medieval era, sand was used as a thermal weapon in warfare.
- Before missiles, burning sand was thrown into the air and targeted at the enemy. Or, men would heat sand and pour it on invading troops.
Fact 50: Tiny monsters are living in the sand.
- They are called sand fleas. They burrow into a person’s skin and lay hundreds of eggs, thereby causing an infection.