Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface

Aeolian particle flux profiles and transport unsteadiness



Vertical profiles of aeolian sediment flux are commonly modeled as an exponential decay of particle (mass) transport with height above the surface. Data from field and wind-tunnel studies provide empirical support for this parameterization, although a large degree of variation in the precise shape of the vertical flux profile has been reported. This paper explores the potential influence of wind unsteadiness and time-varying intensity of transport on the geometry (slope, curvature) of aeolian particle flux profiles. Field evidence from a complex foredune environment demonstrates that (i) the time series of wind and sediment particle flux are often extremely variable with periods of intense transport (referred to herein as sediment “flurries”) separated by periods of weak or no transport; (ii) sediment flurries contribute the majority of transport in a minority of the time; (iii) the structure of a flurry includes a “ramp-up” phase lasting a few seconds, a “core” phase lasting a few seconds to many tens of seconds, and a “ramp-down” phase lasting a few seconds during which the system relaxes to a background, low-intensity transport state; and (iv) conditional averaging of flux profiles for flurry and nonflurry periods reveals differences between the geometry of the mean profiles and hence the transport states that produce them. These results caution against the indiscriminate reliance on regression statistics derived from time-averaged sediment flux profiles, especially those with significant flurry and nonflurry periods, when calibrating or assessing the validity of steady state models of aeolian saltation.