Predicting vegetation-stabilized dune field morphology

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Barchyn, Thomas E.
Hugenholtz, Chris H.
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Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
The activity of inland aeolian dune fields is typically related to the external forcing imposed by climate: active (bare) dunes are associated with windy and/or arid settings, and inactive (vegetated) dunes are associated with humid and/or calm environments. When a climate shifts the dune field reacts; however, the behavior, rate, and potential impact of diverse dune geomorphologies on these transitions are poorly understood. Here, we use a numerical model to systematically investigate the influence of dune field geomorphology (dune height, organization and collisions) on the time a dune field takes to stabilize. To generate diverse initial un-vegetated dune field geomorphologies under unidirectional winds, we varied pre-stabilization growth time and initial sediment thickness (termed equivalent sediment thickness: EST). Following dune field development from a flat bed, we introduced vegetation (simulating a climate shift) and transport-vegetation feedbacks slowly stabilized the dune fields. Qualitatively, very young and immature dune fields stabilized quickly, whereas older dune fields took longer. Dune fields with greater EST stabilized quicker than those with less EST. Larger dunes stabilized quicker because of low celerity, which facilitated higher vegetation growth rates. Extended stabilization times were associated with the extension of parabolic dunes. Dune-dune collisions resulted in premature stabilization; the frequency of collisions was related to dune spacing. Quantitatively comparing the distribution of deposition rates in a dune field to the deposition tolerance of vegetation provides a promising predictor of relative stabilization time. Dune fields with deposition rates dominantly above the deposition tolerance of vegetation advanced unimpeded and prolonged stabilization as parabolic dunes. Paleoenvironmental reconstructions or predictions of dune field activity should not assume that dune activity directly translates to climate, considerable lags to stabilizing climate shifts may exist in unidirectional dune forms.
Vegetation growth , Dunes--Vegetation stabilized , Sand dunes--Vegetation stabilized , Climate change , Geophysics
Barchyn, T.E., Hugenholtz, C.H., 2012. Predicting vegetation-stabilized dune morphology. Geophysical Research Letters 39, L17403.