The alignment of aeolian sand dunes, which are formed by the wind, can be used to determine seasonally varying wind patterns, according to a study published online in Nature Geoscience. The findings are based on a landscape-scale experiment and may help with the reconstruction of wind patterns on Earth and other planetary bodies.
Clement Narteau and colleagues bulldozed 16 hectares of the Tengger Desert in Inner Mongolia in 2008. Over the next 3.5 years, they watched as regular dune patterns developed from the flattened landscape. They continually monitored the winds and topography of the dunes and found that the orientation of the dune crests was controlled by the two dominant wind directions in the area. The experiments suggest that wind patterns can be extracted from dunes, even when no meteorological information exists - such as where ancient dunes have been preserved, or on dune-covered terrains of Mars.