Sand Under a Microscope2021-06-14T16:30:07+00:00

Explore the Hidden World of Sand

Under microscopic magnification, the unique beauty and individual character of sand grains reveal a diverse origin reflecting geological history and marine life biodiversity. Sand is everywhere on earth – on our beaches, in our deserts, and on the bottoms of lakes, rivers and oceans. Sand particles are coarser than silt but finer than gravel, ranging in size from 0.02 to 2 mm. They are created when weather and chemicals break down terrestrial rocks, minerals, marine bivalves, corals, mollusks, bryozoans, and foraminifera.

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Every Grain is Unique

There are roughly 8,000,000,000 grains of sand per cubic meter of beach, and roughly 700,000,000,000 cubic meters of beach on Earth. That’s 5 sextillion grains of sand. An incomprehensible number, and yet every sand grain is microscopically unique. Like a snowflake, no two are the same.

Isolated Sand Grains

Sand Tells a Story

The microscopic features of sand from beaches throughout the world tell a story about the local geography, geological history, and biogenic aquatic life living in adjacent seas.

Sand Tells A Story Volcanic Sand

Identify-Wailea-Beach-Maui-Hawaii-sand-grains

Aquatic Life in Sand

Microscopic grains of sand originate from sea life including corals, sea urchins, colorful fragments of bivalves, calcareous remains of numerous unicellular organisms such as foraminifera and bryozoans, and structural components of algae and sponges.

Aquatic Life in Sand

Mineral Composition of Sand

The geologic mineral composition of sand is influenced by plate tectonics, volcanic activity, and mountainous erosion occurring over many millions of years.

Mineral Composition of Sand illustration

Photographs of Sand Under a Microscope

Sæból

Location: Europe, Iceland|

A mixture of tan to white opaque fragments of mollusk shells along with some purple and gray shell fragments (upper center) accompany the numerous dark gray to black sand grains of volcanic origin...

Rauðasandsvegur

Location: Europe, Iceland|

Variably sized light tan, dark tan and white small fragments of sea shells with occasional larger darker fragments characterize this beach that stretches for over 10 kilometers...

Hofgarðar

Location: Europe, Iceland|

This sand is a mixture of white, tan, gray and black sand grains. All are smoothly worn from long exposure to wave action. White and tan grains are worn fragments of marine shells...

Hellnar

Location: Europe, Iceland|

This sand is a mixture of white, tan, gray and black sand grains. White and tan grains are fragments of marine shells. Dark sand grains are fragments of basalt and other metamorphic rocks...

Djúpavík

Location: Europe, Iceland|

Djúpavík, a small village in the Northwest of Iceland in the Westfjords region, consists of seven houses, a hotel and the ruins of a herring factory. In the mid 1930’s Djúpavík...

Jökulsárlón (Diamond Beach)

Location: Europe, Iceland|

The sand at Diamond Beach consists mostly of dark gray and black volcanic rock broken down by ocean and glacier rivers over centuries to form the black sand beach. White, tan and reddish sand grains also of...

Kynance Cove

Location: England, Europe|

Known for its striking beauty, unique geomorphology, and picturesque coves, the Lizard Peninsula is legendary for its 18th century smuggling trade and shipwrecks in nearby reefs. This area, known as...

Dream Beach, Bali

Location: Asia, Indonesia|

The Island of Bali, like most islands of the Indonesian archipelago, resulted from the tectonic subduction of the Indo-Australian plate under the Eurasian plate. The tertiary ocean floor, consisting of ancient marine...

Jeju Island

Location: Asia, South Korea|

With a natural geology like none other in the world, this elliptical island is comprised of Holocene volcanic rocks resulting from several volcanic eruptions with the most recent...

Tazones, Asturias

Location: Europe, Spain|

Auturias beaches, such as Tazones in northern Spain, face the Catabrian sea that is the southern part of the Bay of Biscay. The diverse benthic habitat in the Catabrian Sea provides hotspots for biodiversity...

Syotenkyo, Kazuranohama

Location: Asia, Japan|

Syotenkyo Kazuranohama Beach is a long swimming beach of white sands, green pines, and shallow waters sandwiched between the Sea of Japan and Kumihama Bay in the northwesternmost region of Kyoto...

Santa Maria del Mar

Location: Central America, Cuba|

The seas surrounding Cuba have a varied and abundant biomass including diverse corals, soft sponges, sea grass beds, and more than 7000 species of fish, crustaceans and other marine life...

Isla Chora

Location: Central America, Costa Rica|

Isla Chora sand is primarily biogenic with a scattering of variably sized light greenish-gray porphyritic basalt stippled with vesicles that have been filled with microscopic quartz and other mineral crystals...

Elba Island

Location: Europe, Italy|

In terms of geological time, Elba Island is young with variable topographical features. Highly variably sized sand grains originate from geological activity 50 million years ago...

Ramla Bay, Gozo

Location: Europe, Italy|

The tan color sand consist primarily of compacted skeletal remains of ancient globigerina foraminifera. The surrounding Mediterranean water have contributed additional biogenic components...

San Fruttuoso

Location: Europe, Italy|

San Fruttuoso beach is a mixture of larger and small sand grains reflecting the minerals of the adjacent Portofino mountainous terrain with occasional biogenic sand grains...

Hirakubozaki, Ishigaki Island

Location: Asia, Japan|

Beach sand from the Hirakubozaki area is rich in well-rounded biogenic grains representing skeletal remains of foraminifera species and fragments of coral, coralline algae, various shells...

Bay of Banderas

Location: Mexico, North America|

Beach sand from the Bay of Banderas is a variable mixture of colorful sand grains mostly 1 millimeter or less in size with angular edges geologically indicative of relatively young sand...

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