On the genesis and evolution of barchan dunes: Morphodynamics

A. Khosronejad, F. Sotiropoulos

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49 Scopus citations


Barchan dunes are crescent-shaped formations of sand that can dominate both desert and subaqueous landscapes when the supply of sand is scarce. Because of the complexity and scale of the underlying phenomena, the mechanisms governing the entire process from the genesis to the long-term evolution of barchan fields still remain to be better understood. Herein, we attempt to present a description of this process in a subaqueous environment by employing a large-eddy simulation approach that couples turbulent flow and sand-bed morphodynamics. We show that the seeds of the emergent structure in barchan fields are random turbulent flow motions near the initially flat bed. We also provide high-resolution insights into phenomena such as barchan migration and merging, and show how transverse sand waves are formed and migrate over the barchan horns. Furthermore, the transverse sand waves over the barchan horns are shown to be the seeds of the newly born barchans at the end points of the two horns of a barchan through the process known as calving. To show this, we examine the celerity, wavelength and amplitude of the transverse sand waves over the barchan as they approach the end of its horn. The celerity and wavelength of these transverse sand waves are shown to be the defining factors in determining the frequency of the calving process. The amplitude of the newly born barchans (through calving) is also shown to be associated with the amplitude of the transverse waves near the end of the horn. The simulation data also show that the wavelength of the newly born barchans (the distance between individual dunes) is closely related to that of the transverse sand waves over their maternal barchan. Finally, we use the simulation results to discuss past conclusions derived from theory, conventional models and field observations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)117-148
Number of pages32
JournalJournal of Fluid Mechanics
StatePublished - Mar 25 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Cambridge University Press.


  • geophysical and geological flows
  • multiphase and particle-laden flows
  • sediment transport


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