Formational Mechanisms and Morphology of Windblown Coarse-Grained Sand Ripples at White Sands, New Mexico

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Rachel Glade, University of Colorado at Boulder, Geological Sciences, Boulder, CO, United States, Douglas J Jerolmack, Univ of PA-Earth &Envir Scienc, Philadelphia, PA, United States and Jon D Pelletier, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, United States
Coarse-grained ripples, also known as “megaripples,” are large sand ripples found in both aeolian and aquatic environments on Earth, and are common on Mars. The formation and morphology of coarse-grained ripples are not as well understood as more common splash ripples. Current understanding suggests that formative wind speeds are above the saltation threshold for the fine grains, but below this threshold for coarse grains found on the crests, such that they creep. Based on this idea, we hypothesize that wind speeds above this coarse-grain saltation threshold will destroy the ripples. We further hypothesize that these ripples do not have an equilibrium size; rather, their size is related to the persistence of formative winds in a given direction. To test this model, we studied windblown coarse-grained ripples in White Sands, New Mexico. Terrestrial LiDAR was used to obtain high resolution ripple morphology and migration over a three month period. Wind velocity profiles and concurrent saltating grain size data were collected during a wind storm to directly relate modes of transport to particle size and wind stress. These local data were used to calibrate wind records from a nearby meteorological station to estimate local fluid stress using a long-term record. LiDAR data indicate that these ripples were destroyed and reoriented between March and June 2013, while the wind record shows that the coarse-grain saltation threshold was indeed exceeded during this time. Morphological analysis indicates that the lee slope of these ripples is set by saltation impact – similar to splash ripples – but that height, wavelength and stoss slope are not related to instantaneous transport conditions. The historical wind record also shows that the range of wind directions decreases rapidly with increasing speed, restricting strong winds to a narrow range of direction. From these results we explore the idea that coarse-grained ripples are typically larger and less frequently destroyed than splash ripples because the stronger winds required to create them are drawn from a more consistent direction. The ability to constrain wind conditions required to form and destroy coarse-grained ripples gives insight into formational conditions both in preserved paleo-ripples on Earth, and also on Mars where these bedforms are ubiquitous.