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Modelling the formation of residual dune ridges behind barchan dunes in North-east Brazil



Residual dune ridges are often formed by vegetation growing along a line some distance upwind of the lower stoss slope of migrating dunes. This process is common in areas where vegetation germinates along the edge of the water during the rainy period when the water level is higher and interdune areas are flooded. The phenomenon occurs on a large scale in North-east Brazil, because of the rise and fall in groundwater level at the end of the rainy season. Each residual dune ridge corresponds to the position of the dune during the wet period in each year. Therefore, variations in the distance between these residual dune ridges could be used potentially to monitor climatic fluctuations in rainfall and wind. To examine the potential use of these residual dune ridges for the reconstruction of past climatic fluctuations, a model that simulates them under varying conditions of wind, rainfall and evaporation rates was formulated. The model was tested for sensitivity to climatic variability in North-east Brazil and validated against residual dune ridge displacements as measured in the field and from high spatial resolution satellite images. Based on the results, it is concluded that residual dune ridges may not form in North-east Brazil in years which are exceptionally dry, as may happen during El-Niño events. When this type of event happens, the distance between adjacent residual dune ridges corresponds to more than one year and, therefore, the correlation between dune displacements and wind power becomes weak or even disappears. Additionally, because of biotic, aeolian and hydrological processes, these arcuate residual dune ridges may not preserve their initial shape for long periods. The presence of residual dune ridges testifies to the temporary flooding which may or may not be seasonal. However, the potential for using residual dune ridges to reconstruct the palaeo-climate of wind regime on a yearly basis or to identify past El-Niño events seems to be limited.