Everyone loves getting their toes in the sand along Alabama’s beautiful beaches, but do you know how that sand is created?
Our sand is softer and finer than you see on most other beaches around the world. That’s the result of pure, white quartz crystal that washed down from the Appalachian Mountains and was deposited in the Gulf of Mexico.
According to Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman, director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University (aka Dr. Beach), rivers delivered the sand from those mountains, bringing a lot of different minerals with them. “But rivers stopped bringing any new sand for tens of thousands of years. During this long period of time, wave action has ground the particles down to size. Quartz, being the most resistant mineral commonly available on the face of the earth, is the only type of sand grain left, as the other minerals were ground down to dust. Not being stable on the high-energy beach, these fine-grained sediments were transported and deposited offshore. What we find on Central Gulf beaches today is quartz sand crystal at its terminal size, meaning that all the grains are nearly the same size.”
Quartz particles give our sand a different look and feel than sand composed of heavier minerals such as titanium. Because it’s made of ultra-fine mineral, under a microscope you can actually see the individual quartz crystals that make up the sand.
Erosion naturally shifts sand, and storm surges move it back out into the gulf; therefore, beach re-nourishment projects are undertaken periodically to replace the sand. The sand is pumped from a site in the gulf chosen for its match of the color, size and shape of the sand onshore. Once the sand is pumped onto the shoreline, it’s spread along stretches of beach. Then sea oats and other natural vegetation, sand fencing and dunes are constructed to help protect the newly formed beach.
Next time you put your toes in that soft, white sand, take a moment to marvel at the wonder of our beaches.