Morphology and stratigraphic evolution of aeolian protodunes at White Sands Dune Field

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Ryan C Ewing, Bradley A Weymer and Patrick Barrineaux, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, United States
Protodunes are low-relief, slipfaceless migrating bed forms thought to represent fundamental emergent bed forms that develop from a flat bed of sand and evolve into dunes. Protodunes at White Sands Dune Field in New Mexico are found at the upwind margin of the field, on dune stoss slopes and in interdune areas. Here we used time-series aerial photos from 1996, 2003, 2005 and 2012 and digital elevation models from 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 in conjunction with ground penetrating radar (GPR) to characterize the morphodynamics of protodunes and the stratigraphy generated by protodune migration. Protodunes at the upwind margin of the dune field are larger in wavelength and amplitude and coarser grained than those in the interior of the field. Wind ripples cover protodunes in all areas of the field, but the protodunes at the upwind margin are covered by coarse grained ripples. A consistent progression of ripple patterns occurs over protodunes in which ripples coarsen in wavelength and grain size toward the protodune crest and then decrease in wavelength and grain size toward the troughs. Ripple migration across the protodunes appears to the primary mode by which the protodunes migrate. Trenching and GPR data show low-angle cross-stratification generated by wind ripples migrating down the protodune lee slope of the protodunes. Internal bounding surfaces within the protodunes likely arise from laterally migration and lee slope reactivation in response to the complex wind regime and dune-modified secondary flow within the dune field at White Sands. Understanding the morphology, distribution and genesis of protodunes in dune fields provides a basis to evaluate the significance of protodune strata in the rock record.