Qatar Runs Out of Sand!

Guest geo-humor by David Middleton

qatar_sand

The future of the diplomatic crisis surrounding Qatar may come to hinge on an unlikely commodity: sand.

An analysis of Qatar’s export and import data conducted by Al Arabiya suggests that Qatar is facing serious challenges to meet its construction needs for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

The precious commodity is vital to construction and Qatar’s push to build the infrastructure it needs to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup will require large sand imports.

Oil was the strategic commodity in the 20th century and in many regions of the world water resources are increasingly the center of geopolitical competition. However, the Qatar crisis has put sand back in the forefront.

The Anti-Terrorism Quartet severed diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar on June 5 over Doha’s ties to terrorist groups.

Among the Quartet are Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – all of which were significant exporters of sand to the country as recently as last year.

[…]

Most extracted natural resource after water

Sand is the world’s second most extracted natural resource after water. However, most of the cost in sand production is in transportation. The global economy has seen local shortages as a result of increased urbanization, especially in Asia where the crisis has been acutely felt. Some regions of India have banned sand-mining in recent months.

Sand is found in a wide range of products, from the glass screen in a smartphone to the fracking solution used in an oil well.

But it’s most common use, by far, is in construction where it is mixed with concrete.

Like much of the Arabian Peninsula, Qatar is home to fields of scenic dunes. However, that desert sand is often too powdery to be used in construction, which relies on coarse riverbed sand.

[…]

Sand stockpiles

Qatar is well-aware of the sand crisis as state-owned media reported on it this year. Qatar has already cancelled some proposed ideas in recent years like a bridge between Qatar and Bahrain which seems politically unlikely given the current crisis. Other commissioned stadium projects plan to use less construction materials.

According to BMI Research, Qatar’s construction industry grew by as much as 14% last year and was expected to grow further this year. That is because Qatar’s budget set aside 47% of total expenditure for major projects in 2017 – a total of some $13 billion.

As recently as 2010, Qatar was exporting to sand to Iraq, according to the New York Times. However, the World Cup infrastructure program has rapidly changed the country’s position regarding the valuable resource.

[…]

Al Arabiya

Who would have ever guessed that a rich, oil-exporting desert nation might run out of sand before it ran out of oil and water?  Have you ever wanted to tell OPEC to “go pound sand”?  Well, you better do it before some of OPEC’s members run out of sand.

Could Qatar be the “sand crisis” version of the “canary in the coal mine”?

Annals of Geology
May 29, 2017 Issue

The World Is Running Out of Sand

It’s one of our most widely used natural resources, but it’s scarcer than you think.

By David Owen

[…]

Sand covers so much of the earth’s surface that shipping it across borders—even uncontested ones—seems extreme. But sand isn’t just sand, it turns out. In the industrial world, it’s “aggregate,” a category that includes gravel, crushed stone, and various recycled materials. Natural aggregate is the world’s second most heavily exploited natural resource, after water, and for many uses the right kind is scarce or inaccessible. In 2014, the United Nations Environment Programme published a report titled “Sand, Rarer Than One Thinks,” which concluded that the mining of sand and gravel “greatly exceeds natural renewal rates” and that “the amount being mined is increasing exponentially, mainly as a result of rapid economic growth in Asia.”

Pascal Peduzzi, a Swiss scientist and the director of one of the U.N.’s environmental groups, told the BBC last May that China’s swift development had consumed more sand in the previous four years than the United States used in the past century. In India, commercially useful sand is now so scarce that markets for it are dominated by “sand mafias”—criminal enterprises that sell material taken illegally from rivers and other sources, sometimes killing to safeguard their deposits. In the United States, the fastest-growing uses include the fortification of shorelines eroded by rising sea levels and more and more powerful ocean storms—efforts that, like many attempts to address environmental challenges, create environmental challenges of their own.

 Geologists define sand not by composition but by size, as grains between 0.0625 and two millimetres across. Just below sand on the size scale is silt; just above it is gravel. Most sand consists chiefly of quartz, the commonest form of silica, but there are other kinds. Sand on ocean beaches usually includes a high proportion of shell pieces and, increasingly, bits of decomposing plastic trash; Hawaii’s famous black sand is weathered fragments of volcanic glass; the sand in the dunes at White Sands National Monument, in New Mexico, is mainly gypsum. Sand is almost always formed through the gradual disintegration of bigger rocks, by the action of ice, water, wind, and time, but, as the geologist Michael Welland writes, in his book “Sand: The Never-Ending Story,” many of those bigger rocks were themselves formed from accumulations of the eroded bits of other rocks, and “perhaps half of all sand grains have been through six cycles in the mill, liberated, buried, exposed, and liberated again.”

Sand is also classified by shape, in configurations that range from oblong and sharply angular to nearly spherical and smooth. Desert sand is almost always highly rounded, because strong winds knock the grains together so forcefully that protrusions and sharp edges break off. River sand is more angular. William H. Langer, a research geologist who retired from the U.S. Geological Survey a few years ago and now works as a private consultant, told me, “In a stream, there’s a tiny film of water around each grain, so when the grains bang together there’s enough energy to break them apart but not enough to let them rub against each other.” The shape of sand deposited by glaciers and ice sheets depends partly on how far the sand was moved and what it was moved over. Most of the sand in the Hutcheson quarry is “sub-angular”: the grains have fractured faces, but the sharp edges have been partly abraded away. Sand that’s very slightly more smooth-edged is “sub-rounded.”

Aggregate is the main constituent of concrete (eighty per cent) and asphalt (ninety-four per cent), and it’s also the primary base material that concrete and asphalt are placed on during the building of roads, buildings, parking lots, runways, and many other structures. A report published in 2004 by the American Geological Institute said that a typical American house requires more than a hundred tons of sand, gravel, and crushed stone for the foundation, basement, garage, and driveway, and more than two hundred tons if you include its share of the street that runs in front of it. A mile-long section of a single lane of an American interstate highway requires thirty-eight thousand tons. The most dramatic global increase in aggregate consumption is occurring in parts of the world where people who build roads are trying to keep pace with people who buy cars. Chinese officials have said that by 2030 they hope to have completed a hundred and sixty-five thousand miles of roads—a national network nearly three and a half times as long as the American interstate system.

[…]

One engineer I spoke to told me that transporting sand and stone for ordinary construction becomes uneconomical after about sixty miles, and that builders usually make do with whatever is available within that radius, even if it means settling for materials that aren’t ideal. In some places, though, there are no usable alternatives. Florida lies on top of a vast limestone formation, but most of the stone is too soft to be used in construction. “The whole Gulf Coast is starved for aggregate,” William Langer, the research geologist, told me. “So they import limestone from Mexico, from a quarry in the Yucatán, and haul it by freighter across the Caribbean.” Even that stone is wrong for some uses. “You can build most of a road with limestone from Mexico,” he continued, “but it doesn’t have much skid resistance. So to get that they have to use granitic rock, which they ship down the East Coast from quarries in Nova Scotia or haul by train from places like inland Georgia.” When Denver International Airport was being built, in the nineteen-nineties, local quarries were unable to supply crushed stone as rapidly as it was needed, so vast quantities were brought from a quarry in Wyoming whose principal product was stone ballast for railroad tracks. The crushed stone was delivered by a freight train that ran in a continuous loop between the quarry and the work site.

Deposits of sand, gravel, and stone can be found all over the United States, but many of them are untouchable, because they’re covered by houses, shopping malls, or protected land. Regulatory approval for new quarries is more and more difficult to obtain: people don’t want to live near big, noisy holes, even if their lives are effectively fabricated from the products of those holes. The scarcity of alternatives makes existing quarries increasingly valuable. The Connecticut quarry I visited is one of a number owned by Stanley’s company, and like many in the United States it’s in operation today only because it predates current mining regulations.

[…]

Ten years ago, I spent a week in Dubai, which at the time was one of the fastest-growing cities in the world. Construction cranes and imported laborers were everywhere. The work went on all night, and the city’s extraordinary traffic congestion was continually being made worse by road-widening projects intended to relieve it. Exhaust from cars and trucks, in combination with wind-borne dust from the Arabian Desert and humid air from the Persian Gulf, formed a thick, phlegm-colored haze that made breathing unpleasant—an effect exacerbated by the ferocious heat. (Dubai gets so hot during the summer that many swimming pools are cooled, rather than heated.)

One day, I played golf with an Australian who worked for a major real-estate developer. The course, like Dubai itself, had been built on empty desert, and I commented that creating fairways and greens in such a forbidding environment must be difficult. “No,” the Australian said. “Deserts are easy, because you can shape the sand into anything you like.” The difficult parts, paradoxically, are the areas that are supposed to be sand: deserts make lousy sand traps. The wind-blown grains are so rounded that golf balls sink into them, so the sand in the bunkers on Dubai’s many golf courses is imported. Jumeirah Golf Estates—on the outskirts of the city, next to the desert—has two courses, Fire and Earth, both designed by Greg Norman. The sand in the bunkers on the Earth course is white (the most prized color for golf sand) and was bought from a producer in North Carolina. The sand on the Fire course is reddish brown—more like the desert across the road. Norman’s company bought it from Hutcheson, which mined it at its quarry in Ontario, sifted it to make it firmer than volleyball sand, kiln-dried it, dyed it, and loaded it onto a ship.

Unfortunately for Dubai’s builders and real-estate developers, desert sand is also unsuitable for construction and, indeed, for almost any human use. The grains don’t have enough fractured faces for concrete and asphalt, and they’re too small and round for water-filtration systems. The high-compression concrete used in Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest structure, was made with sand imported from Australia. William Langer told me that other desert countries face similar shortages. “Mauritania is trying to catch up with the world,” he said. “They’ve got sand all over the place, but it isn’t good even for highway construction.” Stone is so scarce in Bangladesh that contractors commonly resort to making concrete with crushed brick.

[…]

The New Yorker

 

Who would have guessed that desert sand is almost totally useless as sand?  It even makes for “lousy sand traps” on golf courses.

Is the world really running out of sand?

The world has plenty of sand… It’s just in the wrong places…

World Resources: Sand and gravel resources of the world are plentiful. However, because of environmental restrictions, geographic distribution, and quality requirements for some uses, sand and gravel extraction is uneconomic in some cases. The most important commercial sources of sand and gravel have been glacial deposits, river channels, and river flood plains. Use of offshore deposits in the United States is mostly restricted to beach erosion control and replenishment. Other countries routinely mine offshore deposits of aggregates for onshore construction projects.

So, unless global warming ends the Quaternary glacial cycles, sand should remain an abundant, renewable resource.

More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About Sand

chartshephard

 

USGS Sand Nomenclature

 

Advertisements

86 thoughts on “Qatar Runs Out of Sand!

  1. My husband is being laid off for the winter today—from the sand and gravel pit. I guess no one here knows what a valuable commodity they’re not digging out of the ground over the winter…..

    I did learn that finding sand and gravel for road contruction is very unscientific. One simply digs holes until suitable rock/sand is found. No “magical technique”, just hole-digging. It was disappointing.

    • Around my area of Indiana many of the sand and gravel quarries are located along the courses of ancient rivers or streams or the past meanders of existing rivers . Of course not all sand is dug. Much of it is dredged using pumps.

    • RAH is right, sand can be found by landform and by examining aerial photography. You may not know exactly what you have until you dig, but it is not nearly as uncertain as digging random holes.

    • If it makes you feel better, the same method is used for finding the “right” clay sources.

      One lady expert prospector dug holes and tasted, yes tasted, the clay she dug up. Her job was to find the right source of clay to use for kitty litter.

    • It seems that yet again the UN is scaremongering.

      Summary of programme:

      “Yogita Limaye investigates concerns, highlighted in a United Nations study, that vitally important reserves of sand are running out, with serious consequences for human society and the planet.

      Sand is quite literally the foundation of our society. Nearly everything we build in the modern world is made from concrete and its most integral component is sand. But the resource takes thousands of years to form and we’re consuming it faster than it is being replenished.

      UK Geologist Andrew Bloodworth says that much of the way we’re mining sand is unsustainable. Around the world we’re taking from active ecosystems – river beds, beaches and the sea floor increasing the risk of droughts, coastal flooding and causing damage to fisheries.

      In Mumbai, Yogita meets environmental campaigner Sumaira Abdulali who has been threatened and violently attacked for her work in highlighting sand mining. In many parts of the country, sand mining without a permit is now illegal – but she says that has only pushed the practice underground creating ‘sand mafias’.

      In Goa, Professor Purnanand Savoikar is working to reduce our dependence on sand. He’s researching ways to make concrete by partially replacing sand with recycled waste plastic. Professor John Orr from the University of Bath says 10% of sand can be saved in this way if applied globally. He says there is a huge amount of wastage in the way we design buildings.

      Pascal Peduzzi of the United Nations Environment Programme believes doing nothing is not an option – only a wholesale change in attitudes can prevent irreversible damage to the planet. “

      • UK Geologist Andrew Bloodworth says that much of the way we’re mining sand is unsustainable. Around the world we’re taking from active ecosystems – river beds, beaches and the sea floor increasing the risk of droughts, coastal flooding and causing damage to fisheries.

        If we mine sand from the sea floor… it would make accommodation space for more water… reducing the impact of sea level rise and decreasing the risk of coastal flooding!

      • Our town, probably one of many, takes its recycled glass bottles, crushes them, and sends it out to be added to the aggregate at the local bituminous concrete (blacktop) plant.

        The market for recycled plastic died several years ago, oil is too cheap, but they are preserving residents’ training by keeping the plastic bins. Plastic and the rest of the trash goes to the nearby trash-to-energy plant to make electricity.

      • crushed or fragmented glass for recycle is called “cullet” and you might be surprised where you find it in used to make products used in or for your home.

      • Ric: Our city crushes the glass and puts in over the carcasses in the dead animal pit to keep predators out.

      • “If we mine sand from the sea floor… it would make accommodation space for more water… reducing the impact of sea level rise and decreasing the risk of coastal flooding!”

        Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. Sand is too heavy to make it to the deep oceans. Essentially all deposits are in shallow water. This sand can be dredged, yes, but the effect on nearby shorelines is difficult to predict, the result is often increased erosion.

      • I was being very sarcastic. That said, the Gulf of Mexico is loaded with deepwater sand deposits (turbidites, basin floor fans, etc.) from present day back to at least the Paleocene.

      • preserving residents’ training by keeping the plastic bins.
        ================
        one could always recycle the plastic bins and use the waste plastic to make new bins. in this fashion you would never run out of raw materials, no matter how many bins you made. the worlds first truly sustainable business model.

  2. The best beach sand I’ve ever seen is on Koh Samet in Thailand. It is brilliant white and “fluffy” when dry. It must have about 30% porosity when it dries out and is virtually 100% well sorted fine to medium grained quartz.

    • Quartz would never make the best beach sand, it absorbs too much light and becomes hot. The best beaches in the world are pure carbonate sand, softer than a baby’s bottom and cooler than a cucumber.

  3. Didn’t the Saudi Oil Minister say a few years ago that The Stone Age didn’t end because they ran out of stones?

    • Jimmy Haigh….

      Correct! Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani, formerly the Saudi Oil Minister and OPEC spokesman back in the 1970’s/early 80’s famously said:

      “The Stone Age came to an end not for a lack of stones and the oil age will end, but not for a lack of oil”

      His observation is undoubtedly true since we probably still have at least a few trillion barrels of oil resource and we have only used about 1 trillion bbls of oil to date. Despite all the Peak Oil hype, we still have plenty of oil and we have an even bigger natural gas resource, too!

      • remaining TRR is about 3350Bbbl, calculated two different ways in essay Peeking at Peaks. Puts peak oil production (including unconventional API<10, porosity <5%, permeability <10 miilidarcies) about 2023-2025 using either Hubberts logistics function or the gamma function.

  4. Concrete isn’t the only possible building material. Steel is a viable alternative, especially where transporting materials is a major expense. link

  5. Do you know the joke:
    “bureaucracy: you give them Sahara to manage, and in less than a decade they import sand”
    Looks like Qatar is run by some bureaucracy.

  6. What a great over-the-top exposition. Well done.

    All sand aficionados should try to make it to Acadia Natl Parks “Sand Beach”. Its sand is mostly shell and sea urchin spine fragments. Bring a magnifying glass.

  7. I like Michigan soil, it is sandy and drains well, farther south I prefer the climate but I do not like the clay soils of ohio and georgia, they are too greasy when wet and stain clothes too. I often buy bags of sand at HOME DEPOT for yard and garden use here north of Detroit, fill in depressions, build up a base for pavers, etc.

    • Perhaps jobs can be found for soon-to-be unemployed Lysenkoist scientists in breaking up rocks to make sand.

  8. Sand Wars is a good documentary worth watching. Very enlightening. Here is the trailer…I think I saw it on Netflix.

  9. P.J. O’Rourke described his experiences as a “war correspondent” for Rolling Stone during the first Gulf War. Speaking to a construction engineer, O;Rourke jokingly said that at least there was plenty of material to fill sandbags for defensive positions. No, said the engineer; actual desert sand was useless for sandbags.

    So we’ve known about the problem for 25 years or more; does nobody READ any longer?

    • I used to religiously read everything P. J. O’Rourke ever wrote. My favorite was The Bachelor Home Companion…

    • Yes. I learned this is Libya and KSA in the 1980s. They were both net importers of sand and it was counter-intuitive to us young folks at the time. But it was well known long before then.

      • Yes, Ibnsaud, I was told about this by a former Aramco Services employee in 1975. They imported all their sandblasting sand.

  10. We need government investment to find ways to turn CO2 into Sand!
    I can see the grant proposals pouring in right now… ;-)

  11. For my sandblasting purposes I collect dirt from my yard and process it in a bucket of water. I mix then whirl or spin the mixture and the organics settle on top of the heavier sand. After 20 seconds or so I pour out the mud until the sand almost starts to pour out. It takes several repeats of this process, adding clean water every time before the organics are finally gone and mostly pure sand is left behind.
    I use crates with ground fabric lining them so I don’t end up with a lawn covered in mud. I often run out of space to pour the muddy water as the muddy silt tends to greatly slow down the draining.
    There are a lot more details such as there are two methods one can use, sift the dry dirt first through a series of ever smaller grate screening sizes so you get groupings of various sizes rocks, pea gravel and a final small rocks that are great for walking paths and big enough so it doesn’t splash up against walls from the rain like sand will.
    The problem with the final sifting for sand is it produces a lot of dust. Too wet and it is to slow to sift as the sifter clogs.
    The second method is to wash first before the final sifting. You will have to dry it first, but there will be little dust.

    My sand blaster wasn’t working well last year so over the winter I looked over a bunch of videos to learn more about them. No one was having any problems that I was having. I tried putting my canister up high, then higher, and tried a wet solution but nothing worked. So this summer I tried again. I thought, from my videos research, that this sandblaster should work, so I pondered and took a look at the nozzle. Hey, it looks like I might be able to disassemble the nozzle and sure enough after use of great force, it unscrewed. I look down the nozzle and something is blocking. I poke a nail through and out pops a pebble.
    So I learned a lot about the venturi principle, and had a great time sand blasting this summer.

    • I hope you use good breathing protection and control dust. Silicosis is a real issue which is why shot rather than sand is used professionally.

  12. Thank you for the interesting post. I had never given any thought to sand. There is obviously more than meets the eye.

  13. One environmental problem not mentioned is that in many places where very high quality sand is found, that sand is also an aquifer. So the removal of the sand exposes that water, turning the sand pit into a lake, and is then a major source for evaporation and aquifer depletion.

  14. Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin, best known by her pseudonym George Sand, was a French novelist and memoirist. She is equally well known for her much publicized romantic affairs with a number of artists, including the composer and pianist Frédéric Chopin and the writer Alfred de Musset. –Wankerpedia

    I think we’ve covered all the sand bases, now.

  15. Out on the Cape Hatteras outer banks in Buxton NC this morning, there are 5 D6T Cats equipped with DGPS units were moving sand around at low tide. Lots of sand. Using Lots and lots of sand to rebuild the beaches and the buffer dunes.

    DGPS units control the blade.

  16. Not news… the UK has been exporting sand to the region for decades (we have nice rounded sand -theirs has too many corners)

      • No sorry…. that was good.

        *I would have buried my head in the sand too, but I could find enuf sand….

        **I had buried my head in the sand, but when the peak hit others dug me out for need of sand, and only then did I see the light.

  17. “What is it that builds up castles and tears down mountains, makes some men blind and helps others to see?”

  18. “Plastic and the rest of the trash goes to the nearby trash-to-energy plant to make electricity.”

    Plastic energy content is 22,000 BTU/lb. I observed a process to use plastic to make synthetic diesel fuel with electricity as a byproduct.

    Plastic like water is also a good ‘moderator’ of neutrons. The design of the of geometry nuclear fuel assemblies uses this property of water to control power in a light water reactor.

    However, when manufacturing nuclear fuel ‘going critical’ is a really bad thing. Therefore, in ‘moderator exclusion areas’ use of water to fight a fire is only allowed to save a life. This was an IROFS (Item Relied for Safety)

    The finished fuel pellets are stacked on stainless steel sheets before they are put in the fuel rods. Some bean counter bought a large amount plastic sheets because they were much cheaper. Fortunately, the reactor engineer doing the safety review nixed then idea.

    Being a skeptic is an essential survival skill in the navy. We do not fight fires by watching the building burn from across the street. Keeping the trash can empty so it can only have a small fire is good and being skeptical that is done is also good.

    Since our hazard analysis team was going to specify the IROFS to keep the trash cans empty, we thought we would see how effect if was by visiting a moderator exclusion area. The trash can were empty and what you would expect in area of technicians wearing white lab coats and cotton gloves.

    What’s up there I asked seeing stairs. Just a storage area! With a 4′ x 8′ stack of plastic pallets stacked 4′ high, next to the dumpsters where the trash was emptied, across from two flammable liquids storage locker with the doors open, adjacent to a natural gas fired industrial kiln.

    Groan!

  19. As noted, sand is used in construction, making up “80%” of concrete.” Probably less, as only mortar or all-sand cement uses this much. However, sand is often used, with limestone, for foundation setting or fill. In Florida, millions of tons of mildly radioactive gypsum (as “phosphogypsum PG) is improperly impounded by the EPA’s erroneous ruling that it is a toxic waste. Even poorly washed PG can be substituted for some sand and Limestone, and makes an excellent roadbed (underbase).
    A well-known civil engineer once told me that PG cannot be used for road-beds because it is classified as a silt. Properly made PG is very angular and the crystals lock together with little plastic flow.

    • Cement has no sand in it. Concrete has sand and cement and aggregate. Cement is used in oil/gas wells to cement the casing in-place and seal the formations off.

      Engineer

  20. Do be careful with all the laughter – it’ll come back and bite ya…….
    Possibly where Oroville’s new speedway went wrong – did they in all their haste use the wrong sort of sand in the concrete mix and possibly/probably and in order to maintain their Manly Hunkinesses, too much cement?
    Hard innit – it *has* to be hard.
    That’s why it cracked – it set too fast and also dried out as fast as it was setting. Should have sprinkled water on it for at least 4 weeks while it was setting. That thing’s is gonna crumble

    Griff should get a life and visit (in the UK) the ‘builders yard’ at any B&Q.
    Sharp sand – for making concrete (5 parts pebbles, 3 parts sand and 2 parts cement) or for cement rendering.
    Builders (soft) sand for mixing mortar used in brick/block laying.
    Back to Oroville, I would have ‘rendered’ it – laid the concrete then while still green, plapped on a 2 inch layer of sharp-sand cement render. Give it a ‘skin’

    (B&Q also sell ‘Play-pit’ sand)
    ;-D

  21. Can’t resist quoting Milton Friedman here: “If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in five years there’d be a shortage of sand.”

Comments are closed.