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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)209–237
Early online date27 Oct 2016
Accepted/In press23 Oct 2016
E-pub ahead of print27 Oct 2016
Published1 Feb 2017


King's Authors


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.

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