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Plants and ventifacts delineate late Holocene wind vectors in the Coachella Valley, USA

January 1, 2009

Strong westerly winds that emanate from San Gorgonio Pass, the lowest point between Palm Springs and Los Angeles, California, dominate aeolian transport in the Coachella Valley of the western Sonoran Desert. These winds deposit sand in coppice dunes that are critical habitat for several species, including the state and federally listed threatened species Uma inornata, a lizard. Although wind directions are generally defined in this valley, the wind field has complex interactions with local topography and becomes more variable with distance from the pass. Local, dominant wind directions are preserved by growth patterns of Larrea tridentata (creosote bush), a shrub characteristic of the hot North American deserts, and ventifacts. Exceptionally long-lived, Larrea has the potential to preserve wind direction over centuries to millennia, shaped by the abrasive pruning of windward branches and the persistent training of leeward branches. Wind direction preserved in Larrea individuals and clones was mapped at 192 locations. Compared with wind data from three weather stations, Larrea vectors effectively reflect annual prevailing winds. Ventifacts measured at 24 locations record winds 10° more westerly than Larrea and appear to reflect the direction of the most erosive winds. Based on detailed mapping of local wind directions as preserved in Larrea, only the northern half of the Mission-Morongo Creek floodplain is likely to supply sand to protected U. inornata habitat in the Willow Hole ecological reserve.

    Publication Year 2009
    Title Plants and ventifacts delineate late Holocene wind vectors in the Coachella Valley, USA
    DOI 10.1016/j.aeolia.2009.07.001
    Authors Peter G. Griffiths, R. H. Webb, M. Fisher, Allan Muth
    Publication Type Article
    Publication Subtype Journal Article
    Series Title Aeolian Research
    Index ID 70036706
    Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
    USGS Organization National Research Program - Central Region; Rocky Mountain Regional Office