In physical geography, a dune is a hill of sand built either by wind or water flow. Dunes occur in different forms and sizes, formed by interaction with the flow of air or water. Most kinds of dunes are longer on the windward side where the sand is pushed up the dune and have a shorter “slip face” in the lee of the wind. The valley or trough between dunes is called a slack. A “dune field” is an area covered by extensive sand dunes. Large dune fields are known as ergs.
Some coastal areas have one or more sets of dunes running parallel to the shoreline directly inland from the beach. In most cases the dunes are important in protecting the land against potential ravages by storm waves from the sea. Although the most widely distributed dunes are those associated with coastal regions, the largest complexes of dunes are found inland in dry regions and associated with ancient lake or sea beds.
Dunes also form under the action of water flow (alluvial processes), and on sand or gravel beds of rivers, estuaries and the sea-bed.
The modern word “dune” came into English from French circa 1790. In ancient times, words cognate to “dune” probably had the meaning of a built-up hill or citadel fortification.
Dunes form where constructive waves encourage the accumulation of sand, and where prevailing onshore winds blow this sand inland. There need to be obstacles—for example, vegetation, pebbles and so on—to trap the moving sand grains. As the sand grains get trapped they start to accumulate, starting dune formation. The wind then starts to affect the mound of sand by eroding sand particles from the windward side and depositing them on the leeward side. Gradually this action causes the dune to “migrate” inland, as it does so it accumulates more and more sand. Dunes provide privacy and shelter from the wind.Read more