Level 1: Describe Major Dune Types and Their
Equipment needed. Maps, aerial photographs, and satellite
images of the dune area are needed, as well as access to any previously
Cost. The cost of this method is low.
Complexity. The level of complexity is low.
Methodology. Identification and description of the major
dune types occurring in a dune field is a necessary first step to
understanding the dynamics of a dune system. The different
dune types present should be identified using well-accepted
lassification schemes (e.g., McKee, 1979a) (Fig. 5, Table 2), and
described in terms of their height, width, and spacing. There are
numerous studies of dune morphology done in this way (see Lancaster,
1995, for examples), but many dune fields in the United
States have not been systematically described.
Timing. This method should be used as needed. Most dune
types do not change significantly over time periods of years to
decades, and many have remained similar for thousands of years.
Level 2: Map Dune Types and Their Distribution using Aerial
Photographs or Satellite Images
Equipment required. Maps, aerial photographs, and satellite
images of the dune area are needed.
Cost. Costs are moderate to high, depending on the cost of
aerial photograph coverages or satellite images.
Complexity. The complexity level is moderate to high; this
method requires knowledge of GIS applications.
Methodology. The goal at this level is to accurately map the
different dune types using aerial photographs or satellite images,
using a classification scheme as above. In this way, the area occupied
by different dune types can be estimated, and changes in dune
distribution and/or morphology can be assessed using sequential
aerial photograph series. There are numerous examples of the
application of these techniques (Andrews, 1981; Lancaster, 1990,
1993; McKee and Moiola, 1975; Sweet et al., 1988).
Timing. Intervals are determined by dates of aerial photograph
Level 3: Use Digital Elevation Models (DEMs) to Estimate
Dune Size and Sediment Volumes
Equipment required. Computing resources and GIS applications
Cost. Costs are low to moderate, depending on the cost of
Complexity. This method is highly complex; it requires
knowledge of GIS applications and data processing.
Methodology. DEMs can be used to estimate dune size,
spacing, and sediment volume using GIS software. With these
data, it is possible to accurately monitor changes in sand volume
that may be occurring as a result of changes in sediment supply.
Data may include online digital data (e.g., http://seamless.usgs.
gov/) or high-resolution LIDAR (light detection and ranging)
data, which may be available from state or local governments, or
specifi cally commissioned.
Timing. Intervals are determined by the dates of DEM or
VITAL SIGN 8: DUNE FIELD SEDIMENT STATE
Dune fields form part of the well-defined regional- and local scale
sediment transport systems in which sand is moved by wind
from source areas (e.g., distal fluvial deposits, sandy beaches) via
transport pathways to depositional sinks. Dune fields accumulate
downwind of source zones at points where wind speed and directional
variability change, so that the influx of sand exceeds outflux,
resulting in deposition and growth of a dune field. Over long
periods of time (decades to centuries and longer) the dynamics of
the system are determined by changes in the supply of sediment
of a size suitable for transport by the wind; the availability of this
sediment for transport, determined by vegetation cover and soil
moisture; and the mobility of this sediment, controlled by wind
strength. The interactions between these variables can be evaluated
in terms of the state of the aeolian system and the limiting
factors identified (Kocurek and Lancaster, 1999). Monitoring of
the current and past sediment state of a dune field is an aid to
understanding how it is responding to stressors.
Level 1 and 2: Identify and Describe the Sources, Transport
Pathways, and Depositional Sinks of the System
Equipment required. Maps, aerial photographs, and published
reports are needed.
Cost. The cost is moderate to low, depending on the cost of
image data. Google Earth is also a good source of data.
Complexity. The complexity level is moderate to high. Some
expert knowledge may be required for interpretation of data.
Methodology. Monitoring of basic parameters and how
they change over time is essential to assessing the state of any
system. A regional survey of the primary and secondary sources
of sediment, the transport pathways, and the sinks for sediment
(depositional areas) is also valuable for addressing impacts on
the system. For example, knowledge of these parameters in the
Coachella Valley, California, was a necessary prerequisite for
developing a habitat conservation plan for the Coachella fringetoed
lizard (Griffiths et al., 2002).
The sources of sediment, transport pathways and sediment
sinks can be identified from published literature and maps, field
survey, and aerial photographs, supplemented by mineralogical
analyses of sand. Good examples of this approach are Griffiths
et al. (2002) and Sharp, (1966).
Timing. This method should be used at decadal intervals.
Level 3: Use Remote Sensing Data to Identify and Track
Sand Sources, Transport Pathways and Sinks
Especially in large, complex dune fields, it may be difficult to
assess sand sources, transport pathways, and sinks using published
studies and limited field surveys. Recent advances in both remote
sensing technologies and methods of analysis allow the identification
and monitoring of aeolian systems remotely, thus saving
many months of field research. These approaches were pioneered
in the Gran Desierto of Mexico (Blount and Lancaster, 1990;
Blount et al., 1990), and have been followed by more detailed
studies of sand sources for Kelso dunes, California (Ramsey et al.,
1999) and the Coachella Valley, California (Katra et al., 2009).
Equipment required. Satellite image data, computing
resources, and image analysis software are needed.
Cost. Costs are moderate, assuming image data are available.
Complexity. This method is highly complex; expert knowledge
is required for image analysis and interpretation.
Methodology. Primary minerals have distinctive characteristics
that can be identified in multispectral image data (such
as Landsat). This approach uses spectral information on the
sub-pixel scale to identify mineral composition and the relative
abundance of different primary minerals. Formerly, this was a
research technique, but some available image analysis software
applications (such as ENVI) include these techniques as part of
their suite of image analysis routines. Care should be taken with
interpretation of results.
Timing. This method should be performed at decadal
VITAL SIGN 9: RATES OF DUNE MIGRATION
The rate of dune migration is inversely proportional to dune
height and directly proportional to wind speed and sand transport
rates. Monitoring rates of dune migration provides valuable and easily understood information on the dynamics of the aeolian
system. If the potential exists for dunes to move into areas of
concern (by crossing roads or migrating into critical habitats, for
example), then monitoring of migration rates can provide valuable
information for resource management. There is a long history
of studies of dune migration rates and several well-established
methodologies, as discussed below.
Level 1: Field Survey of Dune Position Over Time
Equipment required. Marker stakes and a tape measure
Cost. The cost is very low.
Complexity. The complexity level is low.
Methodology. Where dunes are well defined, rates of migration
may be monitored by comparing their position relative to fixed
markers, such as stakes driven into the ground. These markers may
be placed around the perimeter of isolated dunes or adjacent to the
lee face of transverse or parabolic dunes. The position of the dune
can be compared to the original stake positions and rates of change
determined on a seasonal or annual basis. Such methods have been
used at White Sands, New Mexico (McKee and Douglass, 1971),
and in Namibia (Bristow and Lancaster, 2004), and elsewhere. The
disadvantage of field surveys is the need to continually revisit the
monitored dune over the years, and the probability that monitoring
stakes may be buried or left behind as the dune advances.
Timing. This should be done annually.
Level 2: GPS Survey of Dune Positions
Equipment required. A differential GPS unit is needed.
Cost. Costs are low, providing that a GPS unit is available.
Complexity. This method is moderately complex; training in
use of GPS units is required.
Methodology. Dune migration rates can be determined and
monitored very easily with high-precision GPS surveys using a
differential GPS unit. Using this methodology, the coordinates
(latitude and longitude or UTM coordinates) of the leading edge
of a dune (usually the base of a slip face) can be determined with
a precision of less than 1 m, which is more than sufficient for
annual surveys of dune migration rates. The coordinates for the
position of the dune in successive years can then be compared
to determine any advance. This methodology has been used to
determine dune migration rates in Egypt (Stokes et al., 1999).
The outline of the dune can be also surveyed using this method,
providing a record of changes in dune morphology over time.
Timing. This should be done annually.
Level 3: Comparison of Dunes on Aerial Photographs or
Satellite Images of Different Dates
Equipment required. Aerial photographs and topographic
maps are needed.
Cost. Costs are low to moderate, except for computing
Complexity. This method is highly complex; it requires specialist
knowledge of GIS and data processing.
Methodology. In this method, the position of dunes at
different times is compared using aerial photographs taken at
selected intervals. At the simplest level, transparency sheets
(made of mylar, for example) are laid over the photographs.
The area can be delineated on the transparency, and the information
transferred to a topographic map using visual comparison
to features common to both. The change in position of the
dunes can then be measured on the map and divided by the
number of years between the aerial photograph coverages to
provide an estimate of dune migration rates. This method has
been used extensively in southern California (Haff and Presti,
1995; Long and Sharp, 1964; Sweet et al., 1988) and elsewhere
(Finkel, 1959; Hastenrath, 1967; and Slattery, 1990). It
works best when the dunes are well-defined and moving fairly
rapidly. In general, dune migration rates vary inversely with
More precise and more valuable information can be gained
by scanning the images, correcting their geometry in a GIS and
compiling coverages of the position of the dunes at different
times. The GIS can then be used to generate maps of dunes at
different times and to estimate migration rates. This methodology
was used to examine dune and dune field migration rates in
the Christmas Valley, Oregon, in support of management of this
area by the Bureau of Land Management (Lancaster et al., 2001),
and at Great Sand Dunes, where changes in dune migration rates
were compared to climate data (Marîn et al., 2005).
Timing. Intervals are determined by the dates of the aerial
VITAL SIGN 10: EROSION AND DEPOSITION
PATTERNS ON DUNES
The pattern of erosion and deposition on dunes provides a
record of the response of the dune to airflow patterns and vegetation.
Valuable information on the dynamics of the dunes and their
response to changes in climate and vegetation can be generated
in this way.
Level 1: Repeat Photography
Many changes in the topography and morphology of dunes
are complex, and require careful, quantitative topographic survey.
A qualitative monitoring of seasonal, annual, or multi-annual
changes in dunes can be achieved using repeat photography from
fixed camera stations (Livingstone, 1987).
Equipment required. A digital camera and a GPS unit are needed.
Cost. The cost of this method is low.
Complexity. The complexity level is low.
Methodology. Critical areas of dunes, such as advancing
dune fronts, are identified, and a camera station with an unobstructed view
is established. The camera station is permanently
marked and its GPS location recorded. Clear information is
needed on the date and time of the photographs, the camera system
and focal length of lens used. Photographs or panoramas are
repeated on a regular basis.
Timing. This method should be repeated annually.
Level 2: Erosion Pins
Transect lines or grids of erosion pins can be set up across
dunes to measure erosion and deposition patterns at certain points
on the dunes (Fig. 13). These patterns can then be compared to
winds and, if relevant, vegetation cover. This method has been
used to monitor changes on a dune in Namibia for over 20 years
(Livingstone, 1989, 1993, 2003). Other examples include studies
of coastal dune systems (e.g., Arens et al., 2004; Gares, 1990;
Gares and Nordstrom, 1995; Jungerius and Verheggen, 1981).
Equipment required. Erosion pins (or stakes) and tape
measure(s) are needed.
Cost. The cost is low (after initial set up).
Complexity. The complexity level is low to moderate.
Methodology. Grids or transects of erosion pins are set up
across the dune using pins at intervals of 5 or 10 m (or at critical
points, such as the base of the slip face). If possible, positions
of pins should be surveyed. Measurements from tip of pin
to surface should be recorded, as well as the height (exposure) of
pin. Changes in the exposure of the erosion pins (less exposure =
deposition; increased exposure = erosion) provide a record of
Timing. This method can be used weekly, monthly, or annually.
Shorter intervals provide more precise information and are
easier to relate to winds and vegetation conditions.
Level 3: Topographic Survey
Detailed topographic surveys, with a contour interval of
1 m or less can provide very useful data for monitoring dune
changes and dune dynamics. These techniques have been used to
assess dune changes in several studies, in Oman (Warren, 1988),
Namibia (Livingstone, 2003; Ward and von Brunn, 1985); and
in coastal blowout dunes in the Netherlands (Arens, 1997; Arens
et al., 2004).
Equipment required. Survey instruments (total station) or a
differential GPS unit are needed.
Cost. The cost is moderate, assuming that equipment can be
borrowed or rented.
Complexity. The level of complexity is moderate to high.
Training in surveying is required; analysis of results requires a
Methodology. This type of survey can be carried out using
a total station, which downloads coordinates to a computer for
subsequent plotting in a contouring and mapping program such
as Surfer. If a differential GPS unit is available, then similar, but
slightly less precise, data can be generated from a detailed GPS
topographic survey. Either type of survey can generate data for a
digital elevation model, or DEM. Changes can be assessed quantitatively
by comparing digital elevation models for different time
periods, generating information on areas where changes have
occurred and on the volumes and rates of erosion and deposition
in these areas.
Timing. This data can be generated at seasonal to annual
SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS FOR
MONITORING OF VITAL SIGNS
This section provides a statement of the most effective methods
for monitoring of the vital signs identified for aeolian processes
Vital Sign 1: Frequency and Magnitude of Dust Storms
Providing that personnel are available to record visibility
reduction caused by blowing dust, visual observation and recording
is the preferred and most cost effective method for monitoring
of dust events. In cases where the site is remote, then automated
camera systems are the preferred methodology.
Vital Sign 2: Rate of Dust Deposition
The USGS dust trap method is reliable and simple, and provides
a valuable record of dust deposition over periods of years
Vital Sign 3: Rate of Sand Transport
Estimation of potential sand transport rates from wind data
is a necessary first step for monitoring of sand transport rates.
This also provides data that can be compared with other areas.
Long-term field monitoring of transport rates using the Big
Spring Number Eight (BSNE) trap provides a valuable record, if
the site(s) are carefully chosen.
Vital Sign 4: Wind Erosion Rate
Use of erosion pins and other topographic data can provide a
good documentation of wind erosion rates for specific areas.
Vital Sign 5: Changes in Total Area Occupied by
Although more complex and expensive, a GIS approach is
far superior to other methods for estimation of dune field changes,
providing quantitative data that can be used in conjunction with
climate records to understand long-term aeolian dynamics.
Vital Sign 6: Area of Stabilized and Active Dunes
Mapping of active and stabilized dunes using satellite image
data is an excellent method. When used in combination with a GIS, this approach is far superior to other methods for estimation
of dune field changes, providing quantitative data that can be
used in conjunction with climate records to understand long-term
Vital Sign 7: Dune Morphology and Morphometry
Use of aerial photographs and/or satellite images is the
preferred method for describing dune morphology and documenting
any changes that may occur. Although more complex
and expensive, a GIS approach is far superior to other methods,
providing quantitative data to understand long-term aeolian
Vital Sign 8: Dune Field Sediment State
Valuable data on sediment state can be obtained using a
descriptive approach, with limited analyses of samples for bulk
Vital Sign 9: Rates of Dune Migration
Rates of dune migration are best determined using repeated
GPS surveys, or if a long-term historical record is needed, by
comparison of dune positions on aerial photographs or satellite
images. In either case, a GIS approach for data recording and
synthesis is desirable.
Vital Sign 10: Erosion and Deposition Patterns on Dunes
Repeat photography and simple field surveys can provide
valuable information and are simple to set up and repeat.
Any study design should consider the goals of the monitoring,
and therefore what process or landform will be studied,
why it should be monitored, and for how long. Short-term
observations of change are useful, but long-term monitoring
is very valuable, though it involves a long-term commitment
of resources. The personnel and other resources available will
largely determine the methods employed. In general, simple
methods regularly applied will yield good results. As far as
possible, monitoring programs should strive for quantitative
and reproducible results. All data gathered should be assessed
critically after two or three measurement intervals to determine:
(1) whether changes can be detected; and (2) whether
the data can be explained and understood using knowledge of
the process or landform being monitored. Adjustments to the
monitoring program then can be made as needed, but radical
changes should be avoided. It is always useful to have an outside
“expert” to act as a consultant.
An Example Program to Monitor Movement of Small- to
Moderate-Size Inland Dunes
Monitoring of the rates of movement of inland dunes can
provide a sensitive overall assessment of the activity of an aeolian
sand system and its response to natural and anthropogenic stressors.
An ideal program will combine both short-term (months
to years) and long-term (years to decades) monitoring of dune
migration rates. Migration rates should be compared to climatic
data on all time scales.
Major Project Milestones
1. Determine resources available for monitoring and select
appropriate methods to be used. As discussed above, the
best techniques for short-term monitoring are field survey
using fixed markers or a differential GPS survey; for
long-term measurements, use aerial photographs or satellite
images taken on different dates.
2. Ensure that relevant hourly wind speed and direction data
are available for the monitoring site. Upgrade existing
weather stations or install new equipment for the monitoring
3. For short-term measurements: select dunes to be monitored.
Dunes should be selected to be representative of
the size and morphological type found in the study area.
If dune types vary significantly, then choose measurement
sites for each type. Ensure that monitoring sites are
easy to access and not likely to be disturbed by animals
or people. Set up fixed points and benchmarks. Allocate
resources for monthly or seasonal measurements.
4. For long-term monitoring: Acquire baseline image data
and incorporate into a GIS system.
5. For short-term monitoring: make monthly or seasonal
measurements and enter these data into a database. Produce
graphics showing changes over time.
6. For long-term monitoring: compare dunes on images
acquired annually. Produce maps of changes from year
7. After one year, assess short-term monitoring data (if data
are collected monthly). Compare rates of movement to
wind and other climate data. Determine trends. Are there
seasonal differences in migration rates? Do these relate to
variations in wind speed and/or direction over the year?
Determine optimal timing of measurements and adjust
program accordingly. It may be that dune movement is
slow enough that annual or seasonal measurements are
sufficient. Report results to scientific and management
communities. Provide public outreach.
8. After 5 years, assess long-term monitoring data on migration
rates by comparing image data from different years.
Determine trends, if any. Are there inter-annual differences
in migration rates? Do these relate to variations in
wind speed and/or direction, or to changes in precipitation
(and therefore vegetation cover)? Report results to
scientific and management communities.
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