Wind Action & Effects on the Desert Landscape

Wind Action & Effects on the Desert Landscape
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  • 0:01 Wind Action
  • 1:59 Wind Abrasion
  • 4:10 Deflation
  • 5:28 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Margaret Cunningham

Margaret has taught many Biology and Environmental Science courses and has Master's degrees in Environmental Science and Education.

Wind is a powerful force that has the ability to shape a landscape. In deserts, wind action changes the landscape through wind erosion in the form of abrasion and deflation.

Wind Action

Think about a tornado or a storm so strong it knocks down trees. These are just two examples that demonstrate the great strength of wind. Wind is very powerful and can drastically change a physical environment. Wind erosion, which is the process of breaking down and dispersing particles by wind movement, is one way that wind can alter an environment.

A historic example of wind erosion is the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. During this period, many states in the Great Plains region of the United States experienced severe drought, which resulted in extremely dry soil. Strong winds would then blow and pick up the dry soil, causing a dust storm. The soil was carried high in the air and transported long distances. These dust storms were so large and overwhelming that they often blocked the sun completely.

Wind erosion has the greatest impact on areas with dry soil because it is easier for wind to pick up and transport dry, light soil than it is to pick up wet soil. Like the drought-ridden Great Plains during the Dust Bowl, desert regions are also very susceptible to wind erosion. Characteristically, deserts have dry soil, or sand, that is easy to transport. Also, deserts often have fewer physical barriers, such as hills, trees, or other structures, that can slow the wind movement. Due to this lack of physical barriers, desert winds have less slowing them down or stopping their movement and are able to transport particles easier and farther.

Wind erosion can occur by two different methods, which are abrasion and deflation. These two methods of wind erosion both involve the erosion and dispersal of particles, but they shape the desert landscape in very different ways.

Wind Abrasion

Wind abrasion is the process of the wearing away of a solid object due to the impact of particles carried by the wind. The wind picks up particles and moves them. When the particles collide with a solid object, the impact causes small pieces of the object to break off. This can cause the object being hit with particles to become smooth or worn. This type of wind erosion is similar to sandblasting. During sandblasting, a person uses compressed air, or some other force, to push sand at a high velocity over an object in order to roughen or clear the surface. Wind abrasion is a natural form of sandblasting.

In deserts, wind abrasion shapes the rocks and boulders. In areas where strong winds consistently pick up sand and carry it, rocks and boulders in the wind's path can be impacted by wind abrasion. If the wind blows over low-lying rocks, it will cause them to become flattened on the upwind side. The sand particles that collide with the rock will break away small pieces of the rock until it loses its round shape and becomes flat. When the wind direction changes and particles collide with a different side of the rock or boulder, it can cause the creation of another flat surface. Rocks with flat, wind-abraded surfaces are referred to as ventifacts.

For low-lying rocks or boulders, the wind creates a flattened rock surface, but for larger or taller boulders, the wind abrasion causes a very different change to the rock. In most cases, the wind velocity is not strong enough to pick up sand particles and carry them high in the air. Instead, the particles are transported more closely to the ground. For large boulders, this means that the wind abrasion will occur at the base. This process will result in the formation of pedestal rocks, which are rocks that are narrower at the base and have a larger top. They get their name because they look like a pedestal holding an object. These types of rocks also resemble a mushroom with a stem and cap.

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