What sets aeolian dune height?

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Andrew Gunn , Giampietro Casasanta, Luca Di Liberto, Federico Falcini, Nicholas Lancaster, Douglas J Jerolmack 


Earth's major sand seas are often populated with giant dunes, up to hundreds of meters in height and kilometers in wavelength. These massive sediment piles, visible from space on our planet and across the Solar System, indicate that conditions for sand transport have persisted for millenia. Unraveling how giant dunes form therefore has implications for understanding atmospheric flows and climatic stability. The initial wavelength and growth rate of aeolian dunes from a flat sand bed are well understood; aerodynamic theory developed for idealized conditions has recently been extended and successfully applied to predict dune formation in nature. Once dunes grow large enough to perturb the flow nonlinearly, however, size regulation becomes more complicated. Dunes calve and merge through collisions and wake interactions; but the net effect is pattern coarsening through time. Is there any limit to the size that aeolian dunes can grow, besides time? One elegant hypothesis is that the size of giant dunes is limited by the averaged mixed layer height (MLH), where a stable resonance condition is found between topographic and capping-layer waves. This prediction is appealing because it suggests a general and physical (rather than site specific and geological) control by atmospheric forcing, and that the scale of giant dunes can be used to infer the MLH on other planets. An alternative hypothesis, however, is that dune growth just slows logarithmically with time, as dunes grow larger and their migration rates diminish. As real dune fields evolve over century and longer timescales, additional site-specific boundary conditions have been suggested to exert a control on dune size: sediment supply, geologic constraints, wind variability, and climatic stability. Neither the MLH control, or the logarithmic slowing hypothesis, have been directly tested in nature.




Climate, Earth Sciences, Geology, Geomorphology, Physical Sciences and Mathematics, Sedimentology, Stratigraphy


geomorphology, dune


Published: 2021-05-24 02:54


CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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