Sand dunes on Earth share connection with those on Mars - study

Sand dunes, both on land and underwater, may shed light on larger terrestrial and Martian formations.

 X-Raid's driver Orlando Terranova and co-driver Bernardo Graue drive over a sand dune during Stage 2 from Pisco to San Juan de Marcona at the 2019 Peru Dakar Rally, in Pisco, Peru, January 8, 2019. (photo credit: REUTERS/CARLOS JASSO)
X-Raid's driver Orlando Terranova and co-driver Bernardo Graue drive over a sand dune during Stage 2 from Pisco to San Juan de Marcona at the 2019 Peru Dakar Rally, in Pisco, Peru, January 8, 2019.
(photo credit: REUTERS/CARLOS JASSO)

Scientists have identified the dynamic behind the formation of crescent-shaped sand dunes in a recently released study published in Physics of Fluids.

Known as barchans, the unusually shaped sand dunes can be formed in any size "from finger-length dunes on the ocean floor, to stadium-sized dunes in the Earth's deserts, to dunes that extend for a kilometer across the surface of Mars," the authors of the study wrote. behind Physics of Fluids wrote in their recent publication.

Until recently, there hasn't been much data available on how or why these dunes grow. That is, until now. 

"In nature, these dunes may take years to form on Earth, or thousands of years to evolve on Mars, so typically, over the last few decades, numerical simulations have been conducted at large scales," the study's co-author Erick Franklin said.

"Computations tracking each grain were almost impossible. Our results show how to carry out computations to resolve, at the same time, the morphology of barchans, the grains' motion, and details of the fluid flow that influence the forces on each grain."

Dunes at the White Sands National Monument, (credit: ITSIK MAROM)Dunes at the White Sands National Monument, (credit: ITSIK MAROM)

So, what does that mean for spectators of these scientific discoveries? New knowledge about how these magnificent and elaborate dunes manage to leave us in awe, of course.

"In nature, these dunes may take years to form on Earth, or thousands of years to evolve on Mars, so typically, over the last few decades, numerical simulations have been conducted at large scales," said co-author Erick Franklin.

"Tracking each grain was almost impossible. Our results show how to carry out computations to resolve, at the same time, the morphology of barchans, the grains' motion, and details of the fluid flow that influence the forces on each grain."

Who will this information help the most?

This information is most likely to help geophysicists, hydrologists, climate scientists, and engineers in assisting to accurately "predict the future of barchan fields, both on Earth and Mars and provide an account of their histories."

So next time you plan a vacation to visit the magnificent sand dunes found across the world, take a moment to consider: you're looking at ancient history!