Sand dunes can communicate, or at least give their neighbor a shove

Sand dunes can communicate with their neighbors and let them know they need space, according to research published by scientists at Cambridge University.

Posted: Feb 5, 2020 2:30 PM
Updated: Feb 5, 2020 2:30 PM

Sand dunes are inanimate objects, so they don't think or feel, but they can communicate with their neighbors and let them know they need space, according to research published by scientists at Cambridge University.

The scientists made the discovery after putting two identical piles of sand in a special, 6.5 feet (2 meters) across rotating tank that generated enough water flow to move the particles.

Sand dunes are known to move around, or migrate, in rivers, oceans and deserts and smaller dunes generally move faster than larger ones, Karol Bacik, a PhD candidate in Cambridge's Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics told CNN. He's the first author on the paper that has been reported in the journal Physical Review Letters.

Bacik said he thought the two piles would move at the same speed since they were the same height and volume.

But that's not what happened.

"There were all the reasons to suspect that they will move at the same rate, but it turns out that they move at different rates," Bacik said. "They would move away from each other, as though they didn't like each other."

The dunes kept moving away from each other until they were at the opposite ends of the round tank.

Sand dunes tend to occur in vast dune fields or corridors, so understanding how they interact will help scientists understand the long term evolution of landscapes, Bacik said.

He said this phenomenon has been seen in satellite images of deserts, but scientists didn't know what caused the dunes to repel each other.

They found that when the flow of water hits the first dune it generates turbulent swirls and curls that are similar to the wake of a boat. That turbulence pushes against the second dune as it flows downstream.

"So the upstream dune is actually generating a wake that speeds up the downstream dune to give it an extra kick," said senior research fellow Nathalie Vriend with the BP Institute for Multiphase Flow, who led the research.

The size of the wake varies, depending on the size of the dune, Vriend said. They're currently looking at how two different sized dunes behave in the test.

It takes about an hour to run the experiments in the lab, which Vriend says lets them make observations that would take decades in nature.

"We uncovered some beautiful physics that was previously unknown on Dune interactions," Vriend said. "It's sometimes a little bit strange to think that these inanimate objects, which aren't humans, transmit information back and forth, which I find fascinating."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 947918

Reported Deaths: 15377
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1291181990
Lake635721103
Allen53899761
Hamilton44082449
St. Joseph42122590
Elkhart33803491
Vanderburgh30574449
Tippecanoe26915251
Johnson23727418
Hendricks22410342
Porter21832347
Clark17562231
Madison17492385
Vigo16302285
Monroe14545191
LaPorte14389239
Delaware14183222
Howard13971273
Kosciusko11498135
Hancock10935166
Warrick10737178
Bartholomew10635170
Floyd10514208
Wayne10077226
Grant9213204
Morgan8928160
Boone8463111
Dubois7791123
Dearborn769490
Henry7691133
Noble7466101
Marshall7409128
Cass7219118
Lawrence7026153
Shelby6647111
Jackson661386
Gibson6190107
Harrison609386
Huntington604495
Montgomery5853105
DeKalb581091
Knox5535104
Miami548888
Putnam543268
Clinton537465
Whitley529354
Steuben501768
Wabash488692
Jasper483861
Jefferson474492
Ripley457777
Adams446068
Daviess4231108
Scott409165
Clay394957
White393858
Greene393392
Wells389884
Decatur388797
Fayette378578
Posey362341
Jennings356056
Washington334747
LaGrange325175
Spencer321136
Fountain318455
Randolph317190
Sullivan309449
Owen287064
Starke282864
Fulton280454
Orange277859
Jay257038
Perry254152
Carroll245229
Franklin242838
Rush237030
Vermillion235050
Parke221420
Tipton212055
Pike211740
Blackford170534
Pulaski168551
Crawford147318
Newton145845
Benton143916
Brown135846
Martin130217
Switzerland126910
Warren115616
Union98511
Ohio80511
Unassigned0482

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1380370

Reported Deaths: 21820
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1534461574
Cuyahoga1354332341
Hamilton984041326
Montgomery677001161
Summit566391051
Lucas51349869
Butler47858663
Stark42048983
Lorain31922539
Warren30328338
Mahoning27315643
Clermont25897297
Lake24746422
Delaware22501147
Licking20701246
Fairfield20658223
Greene20527275
Trumbull20127516
Medina20006290
Clark18086332
Richland16602236
Portage16305231
Wood15869209
Allen14257261
Miami13963261
Muskingum12858155
Wayne12126244
Columbiana11896242
Tuscarawas11103271
Marion10865150
Pickaway10580129
Scioto10477127
Erie9822171
Ross9566177
Lawrence8886125
Hancock8567143
Ashtabula8423187
Geauga8226156
Belmont8221188
Jefferson7635175
Huron7507131
Union740751
Washington7334126
Athens705965
Sandusky6925135
Darke6853137
Knox6762122
Seneca6496137
Ashland6035115
Auglaize593188
Shelby5796104
Brown572972
Mercer563690
Defiance5538101
Crawford5530117
Madison549371
Highland548082
Fulton539583
Clinton532081
Logan516987
Preble5058111
Putnam4876107
Guernsey480664
Williams466482
Perry459054
Champaign452264
Ottawa441384
Jackson432963
Pike397045
Morrow393851
Coshocton386669
Fayette381753
Adams366875
Hardin363970
Gallia352858
Holmes3297111
Henry328869
Van Wert318871
Hocking308070
Wyandot284558
Carroll265452
Paulding245143
Meigs220242
Monroe191949
Noble172942
Morgan169429
Harrison160041
Vinton140619
Unassigned05
Fort Wayne
Cloudy
55° wxIcon
Hi: 67° Lo: 52°
Feels Like: 55°
Angola
Cloudy
54° wxIcon
Hi: 65° Lo: 51°
Feels Like: 54°
Huntington
Cloudy
55° wxIcon
Hi: 66° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 55°
Decatur
Cloudy
55° wxIcon
Hi: 67° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 55°
Van Wert
Cloudy
59° wxIcon
Hi: 66° Lo: 51°
Feels Like: 59°
Showers Saturday morning with breezy and drier conditions by the afternoon.
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events