The effects of interdune vegetation changes on eolian dune field evolution: A numericalmodeling case study at Jockey's Ridge, North Carolina, USA

Jon D. Pelletier, Helena Mitasova, Russell S. Harmon, Margery Overton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Changes in vegetation cover within dune fields can play a major role in how dune fields evolve. To better understand the linkage between dune field evolution and interdune vegetation changes, we modified Werner's (Geology, 23, 1995: 1107-1110) dune field evolution model to account for the stabilizing effects of vegetation. Model results indicate that changes in the density of interdune vegetation strongly influence subsequent trends in the height and area of eolian dunes. We applied the model to interpreting the recent evolution of Jockey's Ridge, North Carolina, where repeat LiDAR surveys and historical aerial photographs and maps provide an unusually detailed record of recent dune field evolution. In the absence of interdune vegetation, the model predicts that dunes at Jockey's Ridge evolve towards taller, more closely-spaced, barchanoid dunes, with smaller dunes generally migrating faster than larger dunes. Conversely, the establishment of interdune vegetation causes dunes to evolve towards shorter, more widely-spaced, parabolic forms. These results provide a basis for understanding the increase in dune height at Jockey's Ridge during the early part of the twentieth century, when interdune vegetation was sparse, followed by the decrease in dune height and establishment of parabolic forms from 1953-present when interdune vegetation density increased. These results provide a conceptual model that may be applicable at other sites with increasing interdune vegetation cover, and they illustrate the power of using numerical modeling to model decadal variations in eolian dune field evolution. We also describe model results designed to test the relative efficacy of alternative strategies for mitigating dune migration and deflation. Installing sand-trapping fences and/or promoting vegetation growth on the stoss sides of dunes are found to be the most effective strategies for limiting dune advance, but these strategies must be weighed against the desire of many park visitors to maintain the natural state of the dunes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1245-1254
Number of pages10
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
Issue number9
StatePublished - Jul 2009


  • Biogeomorphology
  • Eolian dunes
  • Numerical modeling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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