Airflow and roughness characteristics over partially vegetated linear dunes in the southwest Kalahari Desert

Giles F. S. Wiggs, Ian Livingstone, David S. G. Thomas, Joanna E. Bullard

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticlepeer-review


There is little understanding of the flow‐field surrounding semi‐vegetated linear dunes, and predictions of dune mobility are hampered by a lack of empirical data concerning windflow. In an attempt to characterize the near‐surface airflow upwind of and over partially vegetated linear dunes in the southwest Kalahari Desert, this study presents measurements of vertical and horizontal wind velocity profiles across cross‐sectional transects of seven partially vegetated linear dunes. Vegetation surveys combined with velocity measurements from vertical arrays of cup‐anemometers, placed up to 2·3 m above the ground surface, were used to gain information concerning the modification of airflow structure caused by the intrusion of the dunes into the atmospheric boundary layer and to predict the variability of aerodynamic roughness (z0) from interdune to crest.

The results suggest an acceleration of flow up the windward slopes of the dunes and, as such, the data correspond to classical theory concerning flow over low hills (essentially Jackson and Hunt (1975) principles). Where the theory is incapable of explaining the airflow structure and acceleration characteristics, this is explained, in part, by the presence of a spatially variable vegetation cover over the dunes. The vegetation is important both in terms of the varying aerodynamic roughness (z0) and problems concerning the definition of a zero‐plane displacement (d). It is considered that any attempts to characterize surface shear stress over the Kalahari linear dunes, in order to predict sand transport and dune mobility, will be hampered by two problems. These are the progressively non‐log‐linear nature of the velocity profiles over the dunes caused by flow acceleration, and the production of thin near‐surface boundary layers caused by areally variable aerodynamic roughness as a result of the partially vegetated nature of the dunes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-34
Number of pages16
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1996


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