Airflow and sand transport variations within a backshore-parabolic dune plain complex: NE Graham Island, British Columbia, Canada

Jeffrey L. Anderson, Ian J. Walker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


Onshore aeolian sand transport beyond the beach and foredune is often overlooked in the morphodynamics and sediment budgets of sandy coastal systems. This study provides detailed measurements of airflow, sand transport (via saltation and modified suspension), vegetation density, and surface elevation changes over an extensive (325 × 30 m) "swath" of a backshore foredune-parabolic dune plain complex. Near-surface (30 cm) wind speeds on the backshore ranged from 4.3 to 7.3 m s- 1, gusting to 14.0 m s- 1. Oblique onshore flow is steered alongshore near the incipient foredune then landward into a trough blowout where streamline compression, flow acceleration to 1.8 times the incident speed, and increasing steadiness occur. Highest saltation rates occur in steady, topographically accelerated flow within the blowout. As such, the blowout acts as a conduit to channel flow and sand through the foredune into the foredune plain. Beyond the blowout, flow expands, vegetation roughness increases, and flow decelerates. Over the foredune plain, localized flow steering and acceleration to 1.6 times the incident speed occurs followed by a drop to 40% of incident flow speed in a densely vegetated zone upwind of an active parabolic dune at 250 m from the foredune. Sediment properties reflect variations in near-surface flow and transport processes. Well-sorted, fine skewed backshore sands become more poorly sorted and coarse skewed in the blowout due to winnowing of fines. Sorting improves and sands become fine skewed over the foredune plain toward the parabolic dune due to grainfall of finer sands winnowed from the beach and foredune. During the fall-winter season, significant amounts of sand (up to 110 kg m- 2) are transported via modified suspension and deposited as grainfall up to 300 m landward of the foredune. No distinct trend in grainfall was found, although most fell on the depositional lobe of the blowout and at 200 m near an isolated, active parabolic dune. Grainfall amounts may reflect several transporting events over the measurement period and the transport process is likely via localized, modified suspension from the crest of the foredune and other compound dune features in the foredune plain. This evidence suggests that the process of grainfall delivery, though often overlooked in coastal research, may be a key process in maintaining active dunes hundreds of metres from the shoreline in a densely vegetated foredune plain. The effectiveness of this process is controlled by seasonal changes in vegetation cover and wind strength as well as shorter term (e.g., tidally controlled) variations in sand availability from the beach.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17-34
Number of pages18
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Jul 15 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Aeolian
  • Coastal swath
  • Driftwood
  • Dune
  • Foredune
  • Grainfall
  • Parabolic dune
  • Saltation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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