International Planetary Dunes Workshop Brings Aeolian Scientists to Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Dunes scientists participating in the Great Sand Dunes field trip held in conjunction with the Second International Planetary Dunes Workshop. NPS photo by Fred Bunch.

In May, 39 terrestrial and planetary dunes scientists from North America, Europe, and Australia met at Alamosa, Colorado, to participate in the Second International Planetary Dunes Workshop, a biannual gathering of aeolian scientists interested in the study of dunes on other planets and their moons. The small group setting facilitated intensive discussion of problems, issues, and opportunities for developing an international, interdisciplinary agenda for planetary dunes research employing image analysis, modeling, and terrestrial analog studies.

In addition to meetings and formal presentations, the Planetary Dunes Workshop featured a field trip to Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve. The field trip, a day-long event held on May 18, focused on analogs between dune features at Great Sand Dunes and Mars. Since dunes on earth are known to be similar in many respects to dunes on Mars,Venus,and Titan (a moon of Saturn), terrestrial analog studies can significantly enhance our understanding of dunes dynamics elsewhere in our solar system. Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve is an apt place to perform analog research, not least because it has the tallest sand dunes in North America.

One highlight of the field trip was a visit to the Crestone Crater, which may have been formed by a geologically recent (1920s) meteor impact. This "very intriguing" geologic feature will be the focus of interdisciplinary research efforts facilitated by the workshop.

"This conference is a great example of how our parks can be used by a variety of scientists as a outdoor laboratories," said Superintendent Art Hutchinson. "This research has certainly expanded the body of knowledge of the dunes at Great Sand Dunes and at the same time has contributed to the understanding of dunes on other planets."

Great Sand Dunes geologist Andrew Valdez is a member of the science committee that organized the workshop. The other members were Timothy N. Titus (USGS), Lori Fenton (Carl Sagan Center), Nick Lancaster (Desert Research Institute), and Rose Hayward (USGS).

To see the workshop's complete program and abstracts, visit this site.

Postscript: One of the paper sessions at this year's workshop was entitled Bedform Activity. Dare we ask what that might be?