Aeolian responses to climate variability during the past century on Mesquite Lake Playa, Mojave Desert

By: , and 



The erosion and deposition of sediments by wind from 1901 to 2013 have created large changes in surface features of Mesquite Lake playa in the Mojave Desert. The decadal scale recurrence of sand-sheet development, migration, and merging with older dunes appears related to decadal climatic changes of drought and wetness as recorded in the precipitation history of the Mojave Desert, complemented by modeled soil-moisture index values. Historical aerial photographs, repeat land photographs, and satellite images document the presence and northward migration of a mid-20th century sand sheet that formed during a severe regional drought that coincided with a multi-decadal cool phase of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). The sand sheet slowly eroded during the wetter conditions of the subsequent PDO warm phase (1977–1998) due to a lack of added sediment. Sand cohesion gradually increased in the sand sheet by seasonal additions of salt and clay and by re-precipitation of gypsum, which resulted in the wind-carving of yardangs in the receding sand sheet. Smaller yardangs were aerodynamically shaped from coppice dunes with salt-clay crusts, and larger yardangs were carved along the walls and floor of trough blowouts. Evidence of a 19th century cycle of sand-sheet formation and erosion is indicated by remnants of yardangs, photographed in 1901 and 1916, that were found buried in the mid-20th century sand sheet. Three years of erosion measurements on the playa, yardangs, and sand sheets document relatively rapid wind erosion. The playa has lowered 20 to 40 cm since the mid-20th century and a shallow deflation basin has developed since 1999. Annually, 5–10 cm of surface sediment was removed from yardang flanks by a combination of wind abrasion, deflation, and mass movement. The most effective erosional processes are wind stripping of thin crusts that form on the yardang surfaces after rain events and the slumping of sediment blocks from yardang flanks. These wind-eroded landforms persist several decades to a century before eroding away or being buried by younger sands. On Mesquite Lake playa the climatic history of alternating PDO phases of multi-decadal drought and wetness is recorded twice by the presence of yardangs formed nearly a century apart.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Aeolian responses to climate variability during the past century on Mesquite Lake Playa, Mojave Desert
Series title Geomorphology
DOI 10.1016/j.geomorph.2014.10.024
Volume 230
Year Published 2015
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center
Description 13 p.
First page 13
Last page 25
Country United States
Other Geospatial Mesquite Lake, Mojave Desert
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