Volcaniclastic aeolian deposits at Sunset Crater, Arizona: terrestrial analogs for Martian dune forms


Donald M. Hooper, Geosciences and Engineering Division, Southwest Research Institute®, 6220 Culebra Road, San Antonio, TX 78238–5166, USA. E-mail: DHooper@swri.org


Sunset Crater in north-central Arizona (USA) is a 900-year-old scoria-cone volcano. Wind action has redistributed its widespread tephra deposit into a variety of aeolian dune forms that serve as a terrestrial analog for similar landforms and aeolian processes on Mars. Fieldwork was conducted to collect essential geomorphological and sedimentological data, and to establish a baseline for the type and morphometry of dunes, physical properties, interactions with topography, and saltation pathways. Our analyses focused primarily on coppice dunes, falling dunes, wind ripples, and sand streaks. For all collected volcaniclastic aeolian sediment samples, the sand-size fraction dominated, ranging from almost 100% sand to 74.6% sand. No sample contained more than 1.6% silt. The composition is overwhelmingly basaltic with non-basaltic particles composing 2 to 6% of the total. Coppice (nebkha) dunes form where clumps of vegetation trap saltating particles and create small mounds or hummocks. Mean grain size for coppice dune samples is coarse sand. Measured dune height for 15 coppice dunes ranged from 0.3 to 3.3 m with a mean of 1 m. Mean length was 6.7 m and mean width was 4.8 m. Falling dunes identified in this study are poorly developed and thin, lacking a prominent ramp-like structure. Mean wavelength for three sets of measured ripples ranged from 22 to 36 cm. Sand streaks extend downwind for more than a kilometer and are up to 200 m in width. They commonly occur on the lee side of mesas and similar landforms and are typically the downwind continuation of falling dunes. Falling dunes, wind ripples, and sand streaks have been identified on Mars, while coppice dunes are similar to Martian shadow or lee dunes in which sand accumulates in the lee of obstacles. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.