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Desert dunes transformed by end-of-century changes in wind climate

Abstract

Sand dunes in arid regions are conspicuous mobile landforms that require adaptation and mitigation strategies to protect human infrastructure and economic assets from encroachment, and play a substantial role in desertification and atmospheric dust emissions. Here we show how the shape, migration speed and direction of mobile desert dunes globally are projected to change by 2100, in response to sand-moving wind regime shifts associated with climate change under the shared socio-economic pathway SSP5-8.5 (SSP, shared socio-economic pathway) scenario. We find transformations in dune dynamics for many sand seas and dune fields across the Sahara, The Horn of Africa, the Southern Arabian Peninsula, South Asia, China and Australia—as well as an increased potential for sand sea expansion and reactivation of dormant dune fields—linked to climate change alterations in the Hadley circulation, extra-tropical cyclone activity and monsoon systems. These projected changes will affect planning for and management of dune encroachment on transportation infrastructure, industry and urban development in desert regions.

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Fig. 1: Phase diagram of desert dune types as a function of directional variability in sand drift.
Fig. 2: Changes in sand drift regime parameters in the global arid zones predicted for the end of this century.
Fig. 3: Impacts of changing sand drift regime on desert dunes.
Fig. 4: Seasonal changes in sand drift due to altering atmospheric circulation patterns.

Data availability

The source data analysed in this study are publicly available at the following sites: HadGEM3-GC31-MM in the CMIP6 repository from the World Climate Research Programme (https://esgf-index1.ceda.ac.uk/search/cmip6-ceda/) and ERA5 hourly data on single levels from 1979 to present from the Climate Data Store—Copernicus Climate Change Service (https://cds.climate.copernicus.eu/cdsapp#!/dataset/reanalysis-era5-single-levels?tab=overview). The datasets of predicted sand drift regime parameters generated in this study are available in the Supplementary Information as Google Earth layers. The datasets of the arid zone mobile dune survey and the sand drift regime parameters are further available in the repository https://doi.org/10.18742/c.6194551.

Code availability

Data processing and analysis scripts (written for Matlab) are available in the repository https://doi.org/10.18742/c.6194551.

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A.C.W.B. and L.A.D. conceived and designed the study, and collected and analysed the data. The manuscript was written and prepared by A.C.W.B.

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Correspondence to Andreas C. W. Baas.

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Nature Climate Change thanks Ryan Ewing, Eric Parteli and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary Data 1

Google Earth Layers of data as.kml files.

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Baas, A.C.W., Delobel, L.A. Desert dunes transformed by end-of-century changes in wind climate. Nat. Clim. Chang. 12, 999–1006 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-022-01507-1

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