Relief threshold for eolian sand transport on alluvial fans

Joseph P. Cook, Jon D. Pelletier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Many arid alluvial-fan terraces downwind from eolian sand sources exhibit an abrupt increase in eolian epipedon thickness and sand content below a critical elevation which varies from fan to fan. Above this elevation, sand accumulates locally and is not transported across the fan. Below this elevation eolian sand from nearby playa and channel sources is readily transported across the distal fan. Here we test the hypothesis that these distal-fan eolian "corridors" are controlled by a threshold fan-surface relief. We propose that when along-strike relief falls below a critical threshold value, an eolian surface of transportation or "corridor" develops. To test this hypothesis, we measured multiple along-strike topographic profiles and eolian epipedon textures on two piedmonts in the Ivanpah Valley and adjacent Hidden Valley in Clark County, Nevada. Both piedmonts are located near sand-dominated playas and exhibit clear evidence of eolian transport across their distal fan regions. The near-surface boundary layer flow above each topographic profile was quantified using the multispectral finite difference (MSFD) numerical model. This model predicts the surface shear stress above complex terrain for any wind condition assuming neutrally stable flow. The minimum shear stress calculated by MSFD for each profile during extreme wind conditions was compared to the shear-velocity threshold necessary to initiate saltation. Model results showed that in proximal fan areas, along-strike relief was large enough to prevent eolian transport of all but fine sand particles. In distal fan profiles within the eolian corridor, model results predict shear stresses everywhere above threshold for both fine and coarse sand.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberF02026
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 24 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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