Controls on the aerodynamic roughness length and the grain-size dependence of aeolian sediment transport

J. P. Field, J. D. Pelletier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Estimates of the wind shear stress exerted on Earth's surface using the fully rough form of the law-of-the-wall are a function of the aerodynamic roughness length, z0. Accurate prediction of aeolian sediment transport rates, therefore, often requires accurate estimates of z0. The value of z0 is determined by the surface roughness and the saltation intensity, both of which can be highly dynamic. Here we report field measurements of z0 values derived from velocity profiles measured over an evolving topography (i.e. sand ripples). The topography was measured by terrestrial laser scanning and the saltation intensity was measured using a disdrometer. By measuring the topographic evolution and saltation intensity simultaneously and using available formulae to estimate the topographic contribution to z0, we isolated the contribution of saltation intensity to z0 and document that this component dominates over the topographic component for all but the lowest shear velocities. Our measurements indicate that the increase in z0 during periods of saltation is approximately one to two orders of magnitude greater than the increase attributed to microtopography (i.e. evolving sand ripples). Our results also reveal differences in transport as a function of grain size. Each grain-size fraction exhibited a different dependence on shear velocity, with the saltation intensity of fine particles (diameters ranging from 0.125 to 0.25 mm) saturating and eventually decreasing at high shear velocities, which we interpret to be the result of a limitation in the supply of fine particles from the bed at high shear velocities due to bed armoring. Our findings improve knowledge of the controls on the aerodynamic roughness length and the grain-size dependence of aeolian sediment transport. The results should contribute to the development of improved sediment transport and dust emission models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2616-2626
Number of pages11
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
Issue number12
StatePublished - Sep 30 2018


  • aeolian ripples
  • aerodynamic roughness length
  • saltation
  • sediment transport
  • shear velocity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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