Journal of Geophysical Research-Earth Surface
Grain size distributions in eolian settings are the result of both sorting and abrasion of grains by saltation. The two are tightly coupled because mobility of particles determines abrasion rate, while abrasion affects the mobility of particles by changing their mass and shape; few field studies have examined this quantitatively. We measured grain size and shape over a 9 km transect downwind of a line sediment source at White Sands National Monument, a gypsum dune field. The sediment source is composed of rodlike (elongate), coarse particles whose shapes appear to reflect the crystalline structure of gypsum. Dispersion in grain size decreases rapidly from the source. Coarse particles gradually become less elongate, while an enrichment of smaller, more elongate grains is observed along the transect. Transport calculations confirm that White Sands is a threshold sand sea in which (1) the predominant particle diameter reflects grains transported in saltation under the dune-forming wind velocity and (2) smaller, elongate grains move in suspension under this dominant wind. Size-selective transport explains first-order trends in grain size; however, abrasion changes the shape of saltating grains and produces elongate, smaller grains that are spallation and breaking products of larger particles. Both shape and size changes saturate 5-6 km downwind of the source. As large particles become more equant, abrasion rates slow down because protruding regions have been removed. Such asymptotic behavior of shape and abrasion rate has been observed in theory and experiment and is likely a generic result of the abrasion process in any environment.
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