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Sand in Nepal

Nepali sands

I heard a captivating story about sand on NPR. The story was told in an interview by Lulu Garcia-Narrvaro and Vince Beiser. Vince Beiser wrote a book about sand titled, The World in a Grain. This immediately caught my attention because it reminded me of the poem Auguries of Innocence by William Blake. I realized how fitting the name of the book is after learning about sand. The interview inspired me to write this article about sand in Nepal.

What is sand and how big is it?

The stuff at the beach? Yes, that is one answer, but did you know there is a scientific definition for sand. Sand is identified by the Unified Soil Classification System as particles with a diameter between 0.074 and 4.75 millimeters (mm). Geologists identify sand as particles with a diameter from 0.0625 to 2 mm.

Inland continental sand is composed of silica and oxygen bonded together (SiO2). Tropical coastal sand is primarily made of calcium carbon and oxygen bonded together (CaCO3). Inland continental sand (quartz) is non-reactive to common chemicals and extremely hard, which makes it an excellent building material.

Abundance

Sand is one of the most abundant things on the planet, however only some of it is useful for manufacturing purposes. There is a limited amount of useful sand in the world and since it is the 3rd most consumed (oxygen and water are 1 and 2) natural resource, it is becoming scarce.

Uses

Sand is used in a multitude of manufactured products. A short list includes windows, computer chips, elastic, filtration, building, concrete, sanding, and insulation. In short it is the stuff our daily lives are made from.

Sand in Nepal

Nepal is primarily composed of sedimentary rocks and metamorphic rocks. The sedimentary rocks include marl, dolomite, siltstone, shale, and limestone. These rocks are made from the same components as tropical coastal sand. The metamorphic rocks found in Nepal, schist, phyllite, and gneiss, are composed of the same elements that make inland continental sand.

Abundance of sand in Nepal

If you were to take Nepal and lay it out flat, it would be comparable to the size of the United States (3.797 million square miles). Nepal is a huge land mass, but vertically stratified, which provides it the potential to produce a lot of sand. Nepal produces hundreds of thousands of tons of sand per year.

How is sand made

Sand is naturally made by 2 types of erosion, water, and wind. It is also artificially made by people. Sand produced by wind erosion tends to be rounded and is considered a poor quality for construction.  On the other hand sand created by water erosion tends to have angular edges and is better suited for construction.

Sand mining and production in Nepal

Nepal is going through a huge industrial boom right now. You can see sand mines processing sand on the banks of nearly all major rivers in Nepal. To a lesser extent you can also see people pounding on rocks with hammers and sieving the sand produced. This sand is going into concrete for houses and buildings that were destroyed during the 2015 earth quake, and to new homes and an international airport in Pokhara.

Sand in Nepal

Sand is not something that is not naturally considered when thinking about Nepal. Most people think of Chitwan, the Annapurna mountains, or Mt. Everest. Considering the amount of rain fall (about 63 inches), and snow that lands in Nepal each year, it is easy to assume most of the sand is created by water erosion.

Sand is one of the most important solid substances in the word, in my opinion it is second to wood. Without it, we wouldn’t have modern civilization. It may also become one of Nepal’s most valued exports because sand values have quintupled in the past 30 years.

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