Two-Phase Abrasion in Eolian Transport of Gypsum Sand, White Sands NM

Friday, 19 December 2014
Sam Shaw, Douglas J Jerolmack and Kimberly Litwin Miller, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, United States
Downstream rounding of grains is consistently observed in natural sediment transport settings. A recent theory put forth by Domokos et al. (2014) attributes particle rounding and size reduction to a geometric curvature-driven abrasion process. This process occurs in two phases, in which irregularly shaped or angular particles round to convex shapes with negligible change in axis dimension, then slowly reduce in particle diameter. Miller et al (in review) establish the existence of two-phase abrasion in the natural setting of a fluvial gravel stream. This study examines field samples from White Sands, NM to investigate the presence of two-phase abrasion in a different, non-idealized natural environment – a high-energy, eolian gypsum dunefield.

Analysis of grain shapes from White Sands confirms the two-phase abrasion process, dependent upon mode of sediment transport. We find that large sand grains carried in saltation bed load transport exhibit shape change indicative of two-phase abrasion, while smaller particles carried in suspension do not. We observe rapid shape change in bed load particles approaching a convex shape, followed by slower reduction in grain axis dimensions. Confirmation of this process in a natural, non-idealized setting establishes two-phase abrasion as a general application for bed load transport.