No Spring Break would be complete without sand! But as you sink your toes into the warm sand, do you ever wonder what sand is really made of?

Actually, sand is crushed, weathered rock combined with fragments of shelled sea creatures that have been tossed by currents and waves to become the fine sand that is so memorable from Spring Break trips and summer vacations.

It takes hundreds of thousands of years for the rocks and fragments to decompose and weather into the fine powdery sand we know so well. Since very little new sand from the interior reaches our sandy shores today, take into consideration that the sand around your feet is probably nearly 5,000 years old. Typically the rocks that form the sand particles are quartz sand with feldspar, claims Jeff Williams of the U.S. Geological Survey Woods Hole Science Center. These minerals give the sand the light brown color we are used to seeing. It is important to note, however, that each sandy beach is unique based on the source rocks and coastal processes.

What about other beaches whose sand doesn’t fit into the “light brown” descriptive category, for instance some beaches near Miami where the sand is fairly white?  According to Williams, this sand is white because it is composed of a significant amount of calcium carbonate or tiny bits of fragmented sea shells. In Hawaii, well known for its black sand beaches, the sand is made up of decomposed and weathered volcanic rock!

Learn more fun Spring Break science at Arizona Science Center’s Unbelievable Spring Break now through March 23, 2014!

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