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Multiple origins of linear dunes on Earth and Titan

A Corrigendum to this article was published on 01 February 2010

This article has been updated


Dunes with relatively long and parallel crests are classified as linear dunes. On Earth, they form in at least two environmental settings: where winds of bimodal direction blow across loose sand, and also where single-direction winds blow over sediment that is locally stabilized, be it through vegetation, sediment cohesion or topographic shelter from the winds. Linear dunes have also been identified on Titan, where they are thought to form in loose sand. Here we present evidence that in the Qaidam Basin, China, linear dunes are found downwind of transverse dunes owing to higher cohesiveness in the downwind sediments, which contain larger amounts of salt and mud. We also present a compilation of other settings where sediment stabilization has been reported to produce linear dunes. We suggest that in this dune-forming process, loose sediment accumulates on the dunes and is stabilized; the stable dune then functions as a topographic shelter, which induces the deposition of sediments downwind. We conclude that a model in which Titan’s dunes formed similarly in cohesive sediments cannot be ruled out by the existing data.

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Figure 1: Satellite images of dunes in the Qaidam Basin, China.
Figure 2: Dunes viewed from the ground.
Figure 3: Plot showing total silt, clay, and salt content for transverse dunes, longitudinal dunes, and interdune sediment.

Change history

  • 24 January 2010

    In the version of this Article originally published, one of the data points in Fig. 3 was incorrect. This error has been corrected in the HTML and PDF versions of the Article.


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We thank A. Draut, J. Xu, and J. Warrick (all at USGS, Santa Cruz), J. Barnes (University of Idaho), and J. Radebaugh (Brigham Young University) for reviewing this manuscript and offering constructive comments. We also thank the Australian Academy of Science and the Chinese Academy of Science for funding and support, G. M. da Silva for analytical assistance, and M. L. Eggart for cartographic assistance.

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P.A.H. arranged travel to Qaidam Basin, and the authors conducted fieldwork there together. P.A.H. analysed dune sediment for salt and mud content and calculated the sand transport rose. D.M.R. wrote the manuscript, and P.A.H. reviewed it and added content.

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Correspondence to David M. Rubin.

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Rubin, D., Hesp, P. Multiple origins of linear dunes on Earth and Titan. Nature Geosci 2, 653–658 (2009).

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