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A unifying model for planform straightness of ripples and dunes in air and water

July 1, 2012

Geologists, physicists, and mathematicians have studied ripples and dunes for more than a century, but despite considerable effort, no general model has been proposed to explain perhaps the most fundamental property of their morphology: why are some bedforms straight, continuous, parallel, and uniform in planform geometry (i.e. two-dimensional) whereas others are irregular (three-dimensional)? Here we argue that physical coupling along the crest of a bedform is required to produce straight crests and that along-crest flow and sand transport provide effective physical mechanisms for that coupling. Ripples and dunes with the straightest and most continuous crests include longitudinal and oblique dunes in unidirectional flows, wave ripples, dunes in reversing flows, wind ripples, and ripples migrating along a slope. At first glance, these bedforms appear quite different (ripples and dunes; air and water; transverse, oblique, and longitudinal orientations relative to the net sand-transport direction), but they all have one property in common: a process that increases the amount of along-crest sand transport (that lengthens and straightens their crests) relative to the across-crest transport (that makes them migrate and take the more typical and more three-dimensional planform geometry). In unidirectional flows that produce straight bedforms, along-crest transport of sand is caused by along-crest flow (non-transverse bedform orientation), gravitational transport along an inclined crest, or ballistic splash in air. Bedforms in reversing flows tend to be straighter than their unidirectional counterparts, because reverse transport across the bedform crest reduces the net across-crest transport (that causes the more typical irregular geometry) relative to the along-crest transport (that smoothes and straightens planform geometry).

Publication Year 2012
Title A unifying model for planform straightness of ripples and dunes in air and water
DOI 10.1016/j.earscirev.2012.03.010
Authors David M. Rubin
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Earth-Science Reviews
Index ID 70146269
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center