Nebkha patterns in semi-arid environments

Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 2:10 PM
Joanna M Nield, University of Southampton, Southampton, SO14, United Kingdom, John A Gillies, Desert Research Institute, Reno, NV, United States and William G Nickling, University of Guelph, Geography, Guelph, ON, Canada
In semi-arid supply-limited, environments, nehbka dunes typically form through ecogeomorphic feedbacks. The size, shape and orientation of these dunes are controlled by the interactions between vegetation growth and aeolian sedimentations processes. Once established, these dune patterns modify sediment transport and often form streets of bare surfaces between dune corridors. We examine typical dune and vegetation patterns that form with varying amounts of sediment availability and nebkha maturity at Jornada in the Chihuahuan Desert, New Mexico, USA using terrestrial laser scanning (TLS) to separate the plant and sand elements. Manual and automated TLS shrub height extractions compare well at all sites (p = 0.48-0.94) enabling the quantification of both solid and plant roughness element components in three dimensions. We find that there is a switch in orientation of the dune elements with respect to dominant wind direction from perpendicular to parallel as the landscape develops from an incipient to mature configuration and mesquite-nebkha streets are enhanced. As the nebkha dunes develop the surface coverage of bare sand increases and dune surfaces exceed the size of their companion shrubs. Roughness density also increases at the mature dune site. Individual shrub orientations remain similar at each site, but nebkhas typically host multiple shrub crowns at the mature site. Over a two year period up to 20 cm of erosion was measured on the upwind faces of the mature nebkha dunes, in agreement with the dominant annual wind direction. However, deposition patterns were more diffuse and influenced by the vegetation patterns. This study highlights the importance of ecogeomorphic interactions in shaping nebkha landscape patterns.