A Comparison of General Circulation Model Predictions to Sand Drift and Dune Orientations

Dan G. Blumberg Remote Sensing Laboratory, Institute for Desert Research, Arizona Stage University, Tempe, Arizona

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Ronald Greeley Department of Geology, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona; Department of Geography and Environmental Development, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer-Shera, Israel

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Abstract

The growing concern over climate change and desertification stresses the importance of aeolian process prediction. In this paper the use of a general circulation model to predict current aeolian features is examined. A GCM developed at NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center was used in conjunction with White's aeolian sand flux model to produce a global potential aeolian transport map. Surface wind shear stress predictions were used from the output of a GCM simulation that was performed as part of the Atmospheric Model Intercomparison Project on 1979 climate conditions. The spatial resolution of this study (as driven by the GCM) is 4° × 5°;, instantaneous 6-hourly wind stress data were saved by the GCM and used in this report. A global map showing potential sand transport was compared to drift potential directions as inferred from Landsat images from the 1980s for several sand seas and a coastal dune field. Generally, results show a good correlation between the simulated sand drift direction and the drift direction inferred for dune forms. Discrepancies between the drift potential and the drift inferred from images were found in the North American deserts and the Arabian peninsula. An attempt to predict the type of dune that would be formed in specific regions was not successful. The model could probably be further improved by incorporating soil moisture, surface roughness, and vegetation information for a better assessment of sand threshold conditions. The correlation may permit use of a GCM to analyze “fossil” dunes or to forecast aeolian processes.

Abstract

The growing concern over climate change and desertification stresses the importance of aeolian process prediction. In this paper the use of a general circulation model to predict current aeolian features is examined. A GCM developed at NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center was used in conjunction with White's aeolian sand flux model to produce a global potential aeolian transport map. Surface wind shear stress predictions were used from the output of a GCM simulation that was performed as part of the Atmospheric Model Intercomparison Project on 1979 climate conditions. The spatial resolution of this study (as driven by the GCM) is 4° × 5°;, instantaneous 6-hourly wind stress data were saved by the GCM and used in this report. A global map showing potential sand transport was compared to drift potential directions as inferred from Landsat images from the 1980s for several sand seas and a coastal dune field. Generally, results show a good correlation between the simulated sand drift direction and the drift direction inferred for dune forms. Discrepancies between the drift potential and the drift inferred from images were found in the North American deserts and the Arabian peninsula. An attempt to predict the type of dune that would be formed in specific regions was not successful. The model could probably be further improved by incorporating soil moisture, surface roughness, and vegetation information for a better assessment of sand threshold conditions. The correlation may permit use of a GCM to analyze “fossil” dunes or to forecast aeolian processes.

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