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Sand Art

The Panama Riviera provides an abundance of new experiences and visual beauty. One of these is the blend of black and white sand found on the beaches and the artwork uncovered as the tides change.

Black sand is black in color and can be of different types; a heavy, glossy, partly magnetic mixture of fine sands or consisting of tiny fragments of basalt found on beaches near a volcano. Volcanic beach sand is given the black color by the minerals augite (pyroxene), magnetite, and sometimes hornblende. The black color often comes from the iron in the mineral crystal structure.

Black sand is formed when lava contacts water, cooling rapidly and shattering into sand and fragmented debris of various sizes. Much of the debris is small enough to be considered sand. A large lava flow entering an ocean may produce enough basalt fragments to build a new black sand beach almost overnight. This is usually a one-time rapidly occurring event. Therefore, the black sand will not be replenished if removed or washed into deeper waters.

According to the Smithsonian Institute Global Volcanism Program, the volcano contributing to the black sand is the El Valle volcano located 80 km SW of Panama City. The El Valle de Anton caldera is 6 km wide and currently occupied by the town of El Valle. The pyroclastic flows reached the Pacific Coast 25 km south creating the black sand and black volcanic formations seen while strolling the beaches.

Sea cliffs along the southern coast of Panamá west of Panama City expose pyroclastic-flow deposits from the El Valle volcano. The largest of these post-caldera explosive eruptions took place about 40,000-50,000 years ago and is named from the Río Mar, where its deposits are well exposed.

The black sand sparkles like diamonds and although beautiful to view, absorbs a great deal of the sun’s energy and can cause burns when walking barefoot.

The tides and storms roll in and out shifting the black sands around changing the designs on the beach. Navigating further west away from the volcano’s reach the sand becomes more pristine.

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