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Black Sands

Seabrook is known for its three miles of pristine beaches and the sustainable management of this precious natural resource. But what about the black streaks and clumps that mark our otherwise white sand coastline?

They're evidence of a valuable mineral resource hidden in the sand - titanium, a metallic element found in minerals contained in ancient deposits of soil and rock ground over millennia to form our sands. While our beaches contain only trace amounts, so-called heavy metal beaches in Virginia and Florida are among those mined around the world for titanium, used widely in the aerospace industry for its light weight but high tensile strength. Those same qualities make it useful for joint replacement surgery, dental implants, and everything from bicycles to golf clubs. The United States is a major world supplier of the stuff, with mines in seven states.

Titanium was first described in the late 18th-century, when a curious clergyman wondered about the magnetic qualities of the sand he found on the beaches of Cornwall in southwest England. Extracted and purified some years later by a German chemist, it was declared a new element and slotted into the periodic table as the ninth most abundant mineral on earth, named titanium after the giant gods of Greek mythology.

About 65% of refined titanium is used by the aerospace industry for jet engines, wings and fuselages; the remaining 35% is used for medical purposes and in the manufacture of sporting goods, from golf clubs to tennis racquets, skis and baseball bats. Its resistance to corrosion makes it an important component of ship propellers and hulls. It even shows up in fireworks, where it produces silvery white sparks against the night sky. So the next time you're out on the golf course, on the tennis court or enjoying a day on the water, thank those black beach sands for making it all possible.

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