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Sand dunes ‘communicate’ when they move, new research claims

  • February 07, 2020

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Sand dunes can communicate with their neighbors as they move across landscapes, and they can push neighboring dunes farther away if the landscape dictates, according to a paper published in the journal Physical Review Letters on Tuesday.

“They’re definitely communicating,” the paper’s senior author, Nathalie Vriend, told The Washington Post. “If I give my neighbor in front of me a push, it’s something I do. But we’re not talking about humans with brains, we’re talking about sand dunes that communicate — inanimate objects communicating information.”

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Sand dunes in the Sahara Desert, Merzouga, Morocco.

Sand dunes in the Sahara Desert, Merzouga, Morocco.
(iStock)

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Each time a sand dune is hit by wind or water, a tiny disturbance is created, which in turn gives a neighboring dune a little push. The tiny bumps share information about the landscape so other dunes know when to keep moving or to re-form elsewhere.

Vriend told the Post that climate-fueled desertification and an increased number of sand dunes can end up damaging roads and other infrastructure.

As the planet warms, scientists hope to gain more understanding about how sand dunes move as a window into their impact on dry climates.

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