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There's a song "Blizzard's Never Seen the Desert's Sand". Given Antarctica is a desert, someone questioned the title's validity. BUT is there sand in Antarctica?

I'd imagine yes as it's a pretty basic soil and Antarctica is a big place, and I know there is land mass, not just ice, in Antarctica. I'm not sure though - any more info or evidence about the presence of sand?

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  • $\begingroup$ The song for the record, as background music for anyone writing an answer: youtube.com/watch?v=vNTcA63VZ0s $\endgroup$
    – cr0
    May 20, 2018 at 22:31
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    $\begingroup$ Well I was going to say an interesting expanded question as someone who knows little about Antarctica would be "Is there any land exposed at all" at points during the year. Even for those who know it's a desert, such a polar location would seem it could be all ice/snow covered. But clearly, based upon the answer, looks like yes, there are! Really interesting question. $\endgroup$ May 20, 2018 at 22:48
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    $\begingroup$ Don't forget the other half - are there blizzards in Antarctica? :P $\endgroup$
    – Luaan
    May 21, 2018 at 7:15
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    $\begingroup$ Is it wrong to upvote the question just for the song choice? $\endgroup$ May 21, 2018 at 20:44
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    $\begingroup$ Given that on the location of Chicago there were dunes once, i severely doubt Blizzards miss out on sand. $\endgroup$
    – bukwyrm
    May 22, 2018 at 5:29

3 Answers 3

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Yes. In fact, there are sand-dunes in Antarctica [1:15].

Paleoclimwtes: What are Sand-dunes doing in Antarctica?

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    $\begingroup$ It is enough for obvious 'yes' to the question, but how much sand there is under the ice layer? $\endgroup$ May 22, 2018 at 6:32
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This LiveScience article suggests the areas aren't major:

The scant areas that are free of snow and ice make up less than 0.4 percent of the continental land mass. In places there, the wind has built sand dunes.

This article by Burton-Johnson et al., 2016 on automated satellite analysis methods, summarized in this DailyMail article, indicates refined estimates nearer 0.18% of the continent is not covered by ice/snow.

Based upon the area of Antarctica from Wikipedia (you might be surprised how big Antarctica is!), that would equate to around 10,000 mi$^2$ of uncovered land (see comments for comparison). Of course it may well be that not even all of that area is sand.

It looks from the articles like the largest place to find these sands are the McMurdo Dry Valleys, such as Victoria Valley, which are on the Eastern Antarctica sublandmass [see the sentences directly above the image entitled Deglaciated Antarctic Topography, plus that image itself].

So it sounds like they really do exist, but are relatively rare expanses!

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    $\begingroup$ @Coomie you can't <sup> in comments :p $\endgroup$ May 22, 2018 at 12:14
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    $\begingroup$ But you can $^2$ (which is achieved by typing $^2$)! Mathjax formatting is fairly useful, if a bit of work for non LaTeX'ers. $\endgroup$ May 22, 2018 at 12:21
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    $\begingroup$ For scale: 0.18% of 14 million km$^2$ is 25,200 km$^2$, about the area of West Virginia or Wales or half of Tasmania. $\endgroup$
    – Coomie
    May 22, 2018 at 23:57
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    $\begingroup$ This answer does give a little more detail but @Klaus' is sufficient and was quick, impressively brief but complete, and has overwhelming community support. Plus that user has a little fewer points. So, I accepted theirs, but thank you for the informative addition! $\endgroup$
    – cr0
    May 23, 2018 at 0:51
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    $\begingroup$ @cr0 oh no problem at all, I like his/her answer best too, and totally support your selection. I just liked your question enough to the point I thought it useful to add a little more background to better help it grow and offer more information to anyone reading :) For those of us who've been around a while, there's often less interest in the reputation than in seeing the benefit of the community and others :) $\endgroup$ May 23, 2018 at 1:22
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The simple answer is: of course.

Sand is defined as a lose granular material with grains between 0.074 and 4.75 mm diameter (US definition) or 0.0625 to 0.2 mm (Wentworth, 1922, scale). There is also a logarithmic scale referred to as the Phi scale (Krumbein 1934). Basically grain sizes between approx. 0.05 to 2 mm are defined as sand. Anywhere where there is exposed sediment, some of the sediment will be in the sand fraction.

To obtain "pure" sand it is necessary that some sorting agent act on the sediment. This can be achieved by wind, flowing water (rivers) and wave action. These processes will to different degrees sort out certain grain sizes and provide accumulations of limited grain size distribution. All of the transport processes tend to sort material to some extent. Wind is most limiting, whereas flowing water and wave action is less so but in all cases the sorting depends on the energy provided to move the sediment.

Since Antarctica is largely covered by ice there are not large areas exposed to wave action, flowing river water or wind. But along the shore of the Antarctic peninsula there are many sediment beaches exposed to wind and wave action. In addition, the Dry Valleys area is a low precipitation area that has experienced dry desert conditions for maybe 2 Ma (Fountain et al 1999). In such areas there is ample opportunity for sorting processes to generate well sorted sediments and hence sands. Whether sands will accumulate in the form of dunes or be deposited in other landforms depend on the processes in the area and where sediments accumulate. Many beaches on the Antarctic peninsula are for example dominated by boulders because the smaller fractions are eroded away to more protected bays. This is common in all environments.

So sands are present in Antarctica for the same reasons as sands appear elsewhere on the Earth. Limitations come from the area exposed to sorting processes in Antarctica since much sediment is covered by glacier ice. We also need to remember that glacier ice is to a large extent responsible for creating smaller fractions of sediment due to crushing processes (Hooke and Iverson, 1998)

References:

Fountain AG, Lyons WB, Burkins MB, Dana GL, Doran PT, Lewis KJ, McKnight DM, Moorhead DL, Parsons AN, Priscu JC, Wall DH, Wharton RA, Virginia RA, 1999. Physical Controls on the Taylor Valley Ecosystem, Antarctica. BioScience. 49 (12), 961–971. doi:10.2307/1313730.

Hooke, RLeB, Iverson, NR, 1995. Grain-size distribution in deforming subglacial tills: Role of grain fracture. Geology 23 (1), 57–60. doi:10.1130/0091-7613(1995)023<0057:GSDIDS>2.3.CO;2

Krumbein WC, 1934. Size frequency distributions of sediments. Journal of Sedimentary Petrology. 2 (4), doi:10.1306/D4268EB9-2B26-11D7-8648000102C1865D.

Wentworth CK, 1922 A Scale of Grade and Class Terms for Clastic Sediments. The Journal of Geology, 30 (5), 377-392. doi:10.1086/622910

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