Toward a model for airflow on the lee side of aeolian dunes



The interaction between dunes and the primary wind results in a complex pattern of secondary airflow on the lee side of dunes. From 15 dunes studied during transverse flow conditions at Padre Island in Texas, White Sands in New Mexico, and the Algodones in California, distinct flow regions can generally be recognized, with the overall flow structure comparing favourably to that proposed for subaqueous bedforms. Downwind of dunes with flow separation is a back-flow eddy that extends about four dune-brink heights downwind from the brink of the dune. Beyond the separation cell, the velocity profiles can be divided into regions based upon segments separated by ‘kinks’ in the velocity profiles. The interior is an area above the dunes of relative high wind speed but low velocity gradient. Beneath the interior is the wake, which consists of two layers. The upper wake exhibits an uppermost portion where the flow decelerates while the remainder exhibits accelerating flow, so that the overall velocity gradient decreases downwind. The lower wake exhibits low velocity gradients and wind speeds that accelerate downwind at all heights, but primarily near the top of the layer, thereby causing the velocity gradient to increase downwind. At about eight dune heights downwind, the upper and lower wakes equilibrate to a single profile with the kink between them no longer apparent. The lowest recognizable region is the internal boundary layer. It is recognized by a relatively steep velocity gradient below the wake, and never exceeds a few tens of centimetres in height for our data set. Because of acceleration and increasing shear stress within this layer, interdune flats are at least potentially erosional. Overall, the wake and internal boundary layer show a downward transfer of momentum from upper regions so that the flow recovers. Where flow separation does not occur, simple flow expansion down the lee-face causes flow deceleration.