Aeolian (Dunes) Landforms

Great Sand Dunes National Park
Great Sand Dune National Park & Preserve

NPS Photo/Patrick Myers

Aeolian landforms are shaped by the wind (named for the Greek God of wind, Aeolus). Wind is most effective as a geomorphic agent in areas where there is abundant unconsolidated sediment with little vegetation to stabilize it. Deserts, which by definition are dry and tend to be sparsely vegetated due to poor soil development, are places where wind is a primary agent.

Aeolian processes create a number of distinct features, through both erosion and deposition of sediment.

These can include sand dunes (both active and stabilized by vegetation) found along beaches, and in arid or semi-arid regions. Other types of aeolian landforms and features include:

  • Loess - wind-blown silt deposits common along the Mississippi River Valley
  • Yardangs - sharp ridges of compact sand lying in the direction of the prevailing wind, formed by wind erosion of surrounding material
  • Deflation Hollow - also called a blowout dune, created when loose surface material is scooped out by the wind, leaving a hollow.

Coastal Dunes

Dunes are critical to the health and sustainability of sandy beaches. The primary dune ridge (foredunes) lies adjacent to the shoreline. Secondary dune fields may lie further inland. Dunes may form anywhere that eolian processes (wind transportation) occur. Dunes provide much-needed protection to back-barrier environments (including human development) against severe wave, wind, and storm events. In addition, these geomorphic features provide critical habitat to a variety of migratory birds and mammals. Dune vegetation is very important for the formation and stabilization of dune complexes on barrier islands. Both the root system and exposed vegetation restrict sand movement around plants, helping to secure the dune.

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