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Environmental controls, morphodynamic processes, and ecogeomorphic interactions of barchan to parabolic dune transformations

Yan, Na, Baas, Andreas C.W.
Geomorphology 2017 v.278 pp. 209-237
climate change, dunes, environmental factors, land use, mature plants, models, paleoecology, perennials, remote sensing, vegetation, wind
The transformation of barchans into parabolic dunes has been observed in various dune systems around the world. Precise details of how environmental controls influence the dune transformation and stabilisation mechanism, however, remain poorly understood. A ‘horns-anchoring’ mechanism and a ‘nebkhas-initiation’ mechanism have previously been proposed and selected environmental controls on the transformation have been explored by some modelling efforts, but the morphodynamic processes and eco-geomorphic interactions involved are unclear and comparison between different dune systems is challenging. This study extends a cellular automaton model, informed by empirical data from fieldwork and remote sensing, to fully explore how vegetation characteristics, boundary conditions, and wind regime influence the transformation process and the resulting dune morphologies. A ‘dynamic growth function’ is introduced for clump-like perennials to differentiate between growing and non-growing seasons and to simulate the development of young plants into mature plants over multiple years. Modelling results show that environmental parameters interact with each other in a complex manner to impact the transformation process. The study finds a fundamental power-law relation between a non-dimensional parameter group, so-called the ‘dune stabilising index’ (S⁎), and the normalised migration distance of the transforming dune, which can be used to reconstruct paleo-environmental conditions and monitor the impacts of changes in climate or land-use on a dune system. Four basic eco-geomorphic interaction zones are identified which bear different functionality in the barchan to parabolic dune transformation. The roles of different environmental controls in changing the eco-geomorphic interaction zones, transforming processes, and resulting dune morphologies are also clarified.