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Dune field development, interactions and boundary conditions for crescentic and stellate megadunes of the Al Liwa Basin, the Empty Quarter


  • Mark A. Bishop

    Corresponding author
    1. Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, AZ, USA
    2. School of Earth & Environmental Sciences, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, SA, Australia
    • Barbara Hardy Institute, University of South Australia, Adelaide, SA, Australia
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Correspondence to: Mark A. Bishop, Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, AZ 85719, USA. E-mail:


Within the greater Ar Rub' al Khali (Empty Quarter) sand sea lies an internal depocentre, the Al Liwa Basin, which comprises a variety of mega-scale dune types. Crescentic dunes dominant the north of the basin while megadunes of stellate or star form are a major landform of the south-eastern reaches. Their development into dune fields is determined by the style and rate of dune–dune interactions, the boundary conditions imposed by a multi-modal wind regime, fluctuating groundwater levels, and sediment availability under an assortment of climatic conditions throughout the Quaternary. As a result, dune field patterns are a collective response to these perturbations in space, time and environment. The R-statistic is a collective measure of these responses, and is a metric capable of identifying the degree of pattern maturity or self-organization of the aeolian system, and the pathways from which patterns evolve. The spatial signature of the southerly located star dunes is characterized by two definitive patterns of organization: the first, one of complete spatial randomness, the second, a low degree of spatial uniformity. In isolation, these results appear to be unrelated to those for crescentic dunes of the region in which a significantly higher degree of pattern dispersion is the norm. However, when spatial statistical measures are integrated with the theoretical understanding of dune–dune interactions and the involvement of environmental agents, the complex morphodynamic pathways and linkages between regional dune fields is better understood. In this case, both constructive (e.g. merging, lateral linking) and regenerative activity (e.g. calving) have played important roles in the development of dune size, and associated adjustments in spacing, and dune numbers, and subsequently dune field patterns. Synergetic patterns are emblematic of this vast dunescape, whereby transitional geographic, morphologic, dimensional and environmental modifications exist between the mega-crescentic and mega-stellate dunes of the Empty Quarter. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.