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Direct validation of dune instability theory

Abstract : Modern dune fields are valuable sources of information for the large-scale analysis of terrestrial and planetary environments and atmospheres, but their study relies on understanding the small-scale dynamics that constantly generate new dunes and reshape older ones. Here, we designed a landscape-scale experiment at the edge of the Gobi desert, China, to quantify the development of incipient dunes under the natural action of winds. High-resolution topographic data documenting 42 mo of bedform dynamics are examined to provide a spectral analysis of dune pattern formation. We identified two successive phases in the process of dune growth, from the initial flat sand bed to a meter-high periodic pattern. We focus on the initial phase, when the linear regime of dune instability applies, and measure the growth rate of dunes of different wavelengths. We identify the existence of a maximum growth rate, which readily explains the mechanism by which dunes select their size, leading to the prevalence of a 15-m wavelength pattern. We quantitatively compare our experimental results with the prediction of the dune instability theory using transport and flow parameters independently measured in the field. The remarkable agreement between theory and observations demonstrates that the linear regime of dune growth is permanently expressed on low-amplitude bed topography, before larger regular patterns and slip faces eventually emerge. Our experiment underpins existing theoretical models for the early development of eolian dunes, which can now be used to provide reliable insights into atmospheric and surface processes on Earth and other planetary bodies.
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Submitted on : Monday, October 11, 2021 - 4:08:07 PM
Last modification on : Wednesday, November 17, 2021 - 12:28:41 PM

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Ping Lü, Clément Narteau, Zhibao Dong, Philippe Claudin, Sébastien Rodriguez, et al.. Direct validation of dune instability theory. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America , National Academy of Sciences, 2021, 118 (17), pp.e2024105118. ⟨10.1073/pnas.2024105118⟩. ⟨hal-03373712⟩

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