Phenomena

Sand Ripples in Tidal Flats

Sand, winds, and waves can interact to form remarkable and complex patterns. These sand ripples from the tidal flats of Cape Cod are a testament to such interactions. When a fluid like air or water flows over a flat bed of sand, it can shear and lift grains of sand, moving them to a new location. Very quickly, turbulence within the flow disturbs the initially smooth surface and begins to form the wavelike crests we see. Because the change in surface shape alters the nearby air or water flow, there is a trend toward self-organization and persistence. In other words, once the ripples form, they’re reinforced by their effect on the wind or water that formed them. Once rippled, the surface does not tend to smooth back out. (Image credit: N. Sharp; research credit: F. Sotiropoulos and  A. Khosronejad)

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