Interpreting Dune Patterns: Insights from Earth and Mars

Examples of active dune fields within Nili Patera on Mars. Dunes like these were examined for this study in hopes of giving scientists better insights into how their interactions are influenced by a planet’s climate. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)

A recent study published in the journal Geology attempts to interpret the patterns of dunes, which are sand mounds frequently formed by aeolian (wind) processes and range in size from small ripples observed on beaches to massive structures observed in the desert. Specifically, the researchers focused on patterns of dune crestlines, which are the top of the dunes. Different dune crestline patterns might appear as mundane features, but their formations are often the result of a myriad of influences, including climate change, surface processes, and atmospheric phenomena.

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Amazing Video Takes Flight Across the Dunes of Mars

This is a screenshot from the flyover video of Mars' Matara Crater created from HiRise data. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UArizona

Mars may be a cold, dry, dead world, but it’s still part of nature. As part of nature, it displays a sort of haunted beauty as only non-living forces shape its surface over long periods of time. It’s like a rocky-planet laboratory shaped by natural forces where interference from living processes is absent.

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