Previous studies have shown that sediment fluxes and dune sizes are a maximum near the upwind margin of the White Sands dune field and decrease, to first order, with increasing distance downwind. These patterns have alternatively been attributed to a shear-stress overshoot associated with a roughness transition localized at the upwind margin and to the influence of long-wavelength topography on the hydrology and hence erodibility of dune field sediments. I point out an issue that compromises the shear-stress overshoot model and further test the hypothesis that long-wavelength topographic variations, acting in concert with feedbacks among aerodynamic, granulometric, and geomorphic variables, control dune field properties at White Sands. Building upon the existing literature, I document that the mean and variability of grain sizes, sand dryness, aerodynamic roughness lengths, bed shear stresses, sediment fluxes, and ripple and dune heights all achieve local maxima at the crests of the two most prominent scarps in the dune field, one coincident with the upwind margin and the other located 6-7 km downwind. Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) modeling predicts that bed shear stresses, erosion rates, and the supply of relatively coarse, poorly sorted sediments are localized at the two scarps due to flow line convergence, hydrology, and the spatially distributed adjustment of the boundary layer to variations in dune size. As a result, the crests of the scarps have larger ripples due to the granulometric control of ripple size. Larger grain sizes and/or larger ripples lead to larger dunes and hence larger values of bed shear stress in a positive feedback.
- aeolian dunes
- computational fluid dynamics (CFD)
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Earth-Surface Processes