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Formation of the highest sand dunes on Earth

Publication Year


  • Yang, Xiaoping
  • Scuderi, Louis
  • Liu, Tao
  • Paillou, Philippe
  • Li, Hongwei
  • Dong, Jufeng
  • Zhu, Bingqi
  • Jiang, Weiwei
  • Jochems, Andrew
  • Weissmann, Gary
GEOMORPHOLOGY Volume: 135 Issue: 1-2 Pages: 108-116 Published: 2011

Characterization of dune morphology has historically been based on relationships between dune forms and wind regimes with dune height shown to be sensitive to atmospheric boundary layer depth, sand availability and sediment properties. While these parameters have been used in numerical simulations to model the occurrences of some types of dunes, they cannot alone explain the great diversity in form and size seen on Earth and on other solar system bodies. Here we present results from our studies of dune formation in the Badain Jaran Desert in western China, where Earth's tallest dunes occur. We measured the variability of the dune morphology in this desert on the basis of LANDSAT ETM+ data, and we detected the bedrock landforms beneath the aeolian sands by applying gravity methods. Wind records from stations at the periphery of the desert and SRTM topographical data were examined also to augment the interpretation. Our studies demonstrate that in addition to average wind parameters, dune height is highly sensitive to local geology, subsurface characteristics, and topography, and interactions between changing climate conditions and aeolian and fluvial processes. These additional factors need to be considered in the interpretation and simulation of dunes on Earth. We anticipate that analysis of anomalous dune heights like those seen in the Badain Jaran may also provide critical information on subsurface characteristics and environmental conditions on Earth and on other planetary bodies. (C) 2011 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Author Keyword(s)
  • Dune formation
  • Aeolian process
  • Gravity method
  • Remote sensing
  • Climate change
  • China
KeyWord(s) Plus
  • WIND
  • AREA
ESI Discipline(s)
  • Environment/Ecology
  • Geosciences
Web of Science Category(ies)
  • Geography, Physical
  • Geosciences, Multidisciplinary

[Yang, Xiaoping; Liu, Tao; Li, Hongwei; Dong, Jufeng; Zhu, Bingqi] Chinese Acad Sci, Inst Geol & Geophys, CAS Chinese Acad Sci Key Lab Cenozo Geol & Enviro, Beijing 100029, Peoples R China; [Scuderi, Louis; Jochems, Andrew; Weissmann, Gary] Univ New Mexico, Dept Earth & Planetary Sci, Albuquerque, NM 87131 USA; [Paillou, Philippe] Univ Bordeaux, Observ Aquitain Sci Univers, UMR 5804, LAB UMR 5218,IMS, F-33271 Floirac, France; [Jiang, Weiwei] Chinese Acad Sci, Inst Geol & Geophys, CAS Key Lab Petr Geophys, Beijing 100029, Peoples R China

Reprint Adress

Yang, XP (reprint author), Chinese Acad Sci, Inst Geol & Geophys, CAS Chinese Acad Sci Key Lab Cenozo Geol & Enviro, POB 9825, Beijing 100029, Peoples R China.

  • France
  • People's Republic of China
  • United States
CNRS - Adress(es)
  • Laboratoire d'astrophysique de Bordeaux (LAB), UMR5804
Accession Number
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