Windblown dunes aren't normally stable at a size that fits in a lab, but a new technique creates them in a water tank. The proportions match those of real dunes and apparently verify fundamental principles of dune formation. Image credit: P. Hersen/ENS
Windblown dunes can engulf houses, roads, and airfields, but researchers have had a hard time studying them under controlled conditions. For one thing, tabletop-sized dunes aren't normally stable. Now a team of physicists reports it has generated miniature replicas of crescent-shaped dunes known as barchans in a water tank. At the same time, they say they have verified a basic principle of dune formation. The researchers hope their technique will improve understanding of dune formation and stability as well as related phenomena, such as seashore evolution.