Dune Networks

In sandy deserts, winds can build a vast network of dunes whose shapes depend on the winds that built them. This photograph, taken by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station, shows part of a Saharan dune field known as the Grand Erg Oriental. Of the five basic types of sand dunes, this field features all but one. The predominant winds of the region build most of the dunes into long, straight chains separated by interdune flats some 150 meters lower in elevation. Within the chains, there are linear dunes, created by winds blowing nearly parallel to the dune’s long axis. In places where winds tend to change directions, several linear dunes may merge to form star dunes, like the one just below and right of center in the image. Transverse dunes form perpendicular to the predominant wind direction. The one shown in the upper left of this image may have formed when multiple crescant-shaped barchan dunes merged. (Image credit: NASA, via NASA Earth Observatory)

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