Ephemeral aeolian sand strips are commonplace on beaches. Their formation during high energy sand transport events often precedes the development of protodunes and their dynamics present interesting feedback mechanisms with surface moisture patterns. However, due to their temporary nature, little is known of their formation, mobility or the specifics of their interaction with beach surface characteristics. Similarly surface moisture has an important influence on sediment availability and transport in aeolian beach systems, yet it is difficult to quantify accurately due to its inherent variability over both short spatial and temporal scales. Whilst soil moisture probes and remote sensing imagery techniques can quantify large changes well, their resolution over mainly dry sand, close to the aeolian transport threshold is not ideal, particularly where moisture gradients close to the surface are large. In this study we employed a terrestrial laser scanner to monitor beach surface moisture variability during a three and a half hour period after a rain event and investigated relationships between bedform development, surface roughness and surface moisture. Our results demonstrate that as the beach surface dries, sand transport increases, with sediment erosion occurring at the wet/dry surface boundary, and deposition further downwind. This dynamic structure, dependent upon changing surface moisture characteristics, results in the formation of a rippled sand strip and ultimately a protodune. Our findings highlight dynamic mobility relationships and confirm the need to consider transient bedforms and surface moisture across a variety of scales when measuring aeolian transport in beach settings. The terrestrial laser scanner provides a suitable apparatus with which to accomplish this. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.