Sand Under a Microscope2023-08-14T14:06:52+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.


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


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


Location: Middle East, Turkey|

Famous for its pure, turquoise, aquamarine waters and pebble beach, the Ölüdeniz beach is known for its beautifully serene blue lagoon...


Location: Middle East, Turkey|

The darker sand grains of Phaselis beach reflect the predominantly geological origin of the beach sand. Small fragments of biogenic grains...


Location: Middle East, Turkey|

Kusadasi is a beach resort town situated along a gulf on the Aegeqn coast. This sand features smooth larger sand grains along with smaller rough-edged grains...


Location: Middle East, Turkey|

Sand collected from around Göreme’s unique rock formations is characterized by large amounts of small and larger fragmented silica and feldspar...

Angel Road

Location: Asia, Japan|

Angel Road sand is a mixture of larger and smaller light and dark tan sand grains that show minimal evidence of smoothing by wave action...

Akaishi Beach

Location: Asia, Japan|

Akaishi Beach sand primarily consists of marine sand grains representing broken fragments of coral and forams worn smooth by wave action...

Miyajima Beach

Location: Asia, Japan|

The composition of the beach consists primarily of silt, sand, and crushed seashells. The shape of the sandy beach is influenced by...

Minami Beach

Location: Asia, Japan|

Minami Beach is covered with white and tan marine sand grains representing several different foraminifera species...

Kondoi Beach

Location: Asia, Japan|

Kondoi beach is known for white soft sand and shallow, crystal-clear emerald green water. It is one of the longest beaches in Okinawa...

Hasaki Beach

Location: Asia, Japan|

Hasaki Beach is covered by essentially 100% small geological sand grains with clear quartz, tan and yellow feldspar...

Doigahama Beach

Location: Asia, Japan|

The Doigahama site is located in the center of the small plain on the coast of Hibiki Bay, where stunning white sand dunes...

Fukuura Beach

Location: Asia, Japan|

Fukuura Beach sand is a mixture of dark and lightly colored volcanic sand grains, large and small transparent quartz sand grains...

Nakamura Beach

Location: Asia, Japan|

Originally part of the Asian mainland, the volcanic Oki Islands separated from the Asian mainland 10,000 years ago. Four of 180 islands that make up...

New Zealand

Location: Oceania|

Most of the South Island consists of rock known as greywacke that under heat and pressure was transformed into schist in the west and south...


Location: Israel, Middle East|

Sand along the Mediterranean coast of Israel consists mostly of marine and shell fragments with less dark volcanic and clear quartz sand grains...

Galapagos Island

Location: Ecuador, South America|

Galapagos beaches have a characteristic mixture of light and dark sand grains reflecting its geological origin and abundant aquatic marine life, including worn fragments of tan and reddish bivalve chards...


Location: Europe, Ireland|

Sand samples from two locations in Inishmore. Distinct tan, red striped, and white shell fragments are present along with a collection of dark metamorphic sand grains...


Location: Central America|

Barbados beaches are characterized by uniform fine white sand with a sprinkling of pink and red sand grains. Pink and red fragments of marine organisms stand out in contrast to shell and calcareous algae...

Qurum Beach

Location: Middle East, Oman|

Aside from occasional clear and reflective quartz sand grains and some small black grains, some of which may be volcanic, the majority of the sand grains are smooth white and tan shell fragments...

Lima, Peru

Location: Peru, South America|

This sand is a mixture of clear quartz grains, light yellow-tan rounded feldspar grains with some right angle edges, and darker greenish-gray metamorphic sand grains...


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...


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...


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...


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...


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, Malta|

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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