Example of cross-bedding: Red Rock Canyon sandstone near Las Vegas, Nevada shows the effects of wind on the sand dunes from which it was formed.
Example of cross-bedding: Red Rock Canyon sandstone near Las Vegas, Nevada shows the effects of wind on the sand dunes from which it was formed.Courtesy Mark Ryan
In Homer’s epic poem, the Odyssey , the ruler of wind Aeolus gives the hero Odysseus a leather bag containing all the winds except the west wind. Odyssus keeps its contents secret but his men grow suspicious that he’s withholding treasure from them so they open the bag while Odysseus sleeps. The unleashed winds nearly destroy their ship and send it off course to the other end of the world.

In aeolian geology (sometimes spelled eolian), scientists study how landforms are created by wind, either through transportation, sedimentation, or erosion. Sand dunes, dune migration, cross-bedding, and scouring are some of the ways wind can shape the landscape. On Earth, discernible wind patterns in deserts are plainly visible from space, and similar patterns have been seen on other planets, such as Mars, leading scientists to conclude that wind played a role in forming those same landscape features there.
This informative webpage illustrates how some of it works, and how wind can be a powerful shaping force.

This same force was at work this past weekend in Minnesota. As seen in the above video, a winter blizzard barreled across the state bringing with it the usual high winds, low visibility, and drifting and blowing snow.

Snow-wind patterns 1
Snow-wind patterns 1Courtesy Mark Ryan

Snow-wind patterns 2
Snow-wind patterns 2Courtesy Mark Ryan
Snow-wind patterns 3
Snow-wind patterns 3Courtesy Mark Ryan
Snow-wind patterns 4
Snow-wind patterns 4Courtesy Mark Ryan
After the weather system moved out, it left in its wake (besides a collapsed stadium and lots of white stuff to shovel) some very cool (and familiar) aeloian shapes and patterns in the snow.With the help of the low-angled winter sun and my trusty camera, I was able to capture some of these wind-borne creations.

Sand transport
Aeolian dunes
Dune bedding

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

There was some pretty cool snow geography this weekend, wasn't there? The wind was moving in such a way between my house and my neighbor's that it left a patch of exposed grass next to a 4-foot-tall, windblown mountain of snow. Very interesting. I checked it for fossils, but no dice.

posted on Mon, 12/13/2010 - 2:30pm

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