Following a disappearing resource: Research methods for study of the global trade in sand

Dr Vanessa Lamb1

1University Of Melbourne


Sand mining is now a globally significant problem causing serious consequences for rivers and coasts from where it is extracted. The gravity of the situation is underlined by a 2014 UNEP report showing that annual consumption of sand now more than doubles the yearly amount supplied by rivers globally. This paper will present a research methodology for studying sand and its extraction and trade in places, following sand as it is excavated from rivers and coasts, and then shipped and traded for use in as concrete and fill that shapes the modern urban form, as well as in the glass and microchips that mediate our digital age. I consider the material challenges posed for research methodologies of “following” and “teleconnecting” global flows when the resource itself is running out, with an aim to tease out tensions of presence and absence in global sand flows.


Dr Vanessa Lamb is a Geographer at the University of Melbourne. In research and teaching in the School of Geography, she focuses on human-environment geographies and political ecology of Southeast Asia. Dr. Lamb completed her dissertation, Ecologies of Rule and Resistance, focused on the politics of ecological knowledge and development of the Salween River at York University’s Department of Geography in 2014.


The Institute of Australian Geographers (IAG) is the principal body representing geographers and promoting the study and application of geography in Australia. It was founded in 1958 and since then has promoted, supported and defended Australian geography.

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