WWII "war sand" on the beaches of Normandy

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As much as four percent of the sand on the beaches of Normandy consists of shrapnel left over from D-Day. In a post about this at BLDGBLOG, Geoff Manaugh references a book called "Sand: The Never-Ending Story." The book is about the science and culture of sand, from the ocean floor to Mars. Written by geologist Michael Welland, it sounds like a fascinating read!

(Normandy sand microscopy image by Earle McBride, Univ of Texas)


  1. I used to think shrapnel in battle was composed entirely of shards of metal but it also includes pieces of human bone, a foul discovery.

  2. This would make great vacation reading together with ‘A Complete History of Rust’ and ‘Dandruff; Its Cultural Implications in a Post Industrial Society.’

    1. Boo, hiss, wink. It is an absolutely excellent book about one of the most important substances that exists. At this very moment you’re typing on sand, across sand, and to sand.

      1. I was going to say – that book sounds awesome both for its content (but hey, I’m a geologist) and also because it takes a seemingly boring topic so seriously and earnestly. You know a book like that is going to be interesting.

  3. Reminds me of the section in China Mieville’s The Scar in which they land on the island (the one with the anophelii) which is littered with the remains of ancient machines; a close examination of the red sand on the beach shows that it’s composed of billions of nearly-microscopic rusting gears.

  4. Anyone interested in the composition of beach sand should take a look at A Grain of Sand: Nature’s Secret Wonder, Dr. Gary Greenberg’s  stunningly gorgeous (and surprisingly educational!) book of sand-grain microphotography.

    There’s a whole world of gemlike wonder and biogenic surprises to be seen when you look very, very closely at what looks like “plain ol’ sand.”

  5. I grow up in Normandy by the sea . I remember ,as a kid,  looking for “little orange spaghetti .This “spaghetti” were hard like a seashell . So we would break them to form letters and light them . Even wet it would burn intensively and leave a black mark . it was cordite http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cordite . They were still easy to find in the 80’s and 90’s .

  6. wtf is that, what looks like a perfect sphere 100um across, upper left?
    edit: NM. RTFA, and they purport the spheres ARE the steel, possibly melted and cooled. i wouldn’t think the shrapnel would errode/rust that way.

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