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Morphology and dynamics of star dunes from numerical modelling


Star dunes are giant, pyramid-shaped dunes composed of interlaced arms. These arms are marked by sinuous crests and slip faces of various directions1,2. Their radial symmetry and scale suggest that the star dunes form as a result of complex interactions between a multidirectional wind regime and topography3,4. However, despite their ubiquity in modern sand seas5,6, comparatively little is known about their formation and evolution. Here we present a discrete numerical model of star-dune behaviour based on the feedback mechanisms between wind flow and bedform dynamics7. Our simulations indicate that the morphology of star dunes results from the combination of individual longitudinal dunes. We find that the arms of the star dunes propagate only under favourable wind regimes. In contrast to dunes that form from an erodible bed8, the crests of the propagating arms are oriented such that sand flux is maximized in the direction of arm growth. Our analysis of the simulated three-dimensional structures suggests that the morphodynamics of the arms are controlled by the frequency of wind reorientation, with a high frequency of reorientation leading to smaller arm dimension and high rates of growth. We suggest that arm propagation is an important process of mass exchange in dune fields.

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Figure 1: Star dunes using a real-space cellular automaton model.
Figure 2: Formation and evolution of star dunes using multidirectional wind regimes.
Figure 3: Star-dune morphodynamics.
Figure 4: Effect of the frequency of wind reorientation on arm growth.

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We acknowledge financial support from the LabEx UnivEarthS, a Paris Diderot BQR grant, the French National Research Agency (grant ANR-09-RISK-004/GESTRANS) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant 40930105). We thank S. Rodriguez for commenting on the manuscript. Images of Fig. 1 are courtesy of Google Earth and B. Andreotti.

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D.Z. carried out all numerical simulations and statistical data analysis. O.R. developed the real-space cellular automaton, a free sofware under GNU general public license. C.N. and S.C.d.P. designed the study and wrote the manuscript. All authors discussed the results.

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Correspondence to Clément Narteau or Sylvain Courrech du Pont.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Zhang, D., Narteau, C., Rozier, O. et al. Morphology and dynamics of star dunes from numerical modelling. Nature Geosci 5, 463–467 (2012).

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