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White Sands

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Inland Dunes of North America

Part of the book series: Dunes of the World ((DUNES))

Abstract

Situated within the Tularosa Basin and the Rio Grande Rift Zone of central-southern New Mexico, White Sands Dune Field records a unique interplay of geology, hydrology, and climate. The origins of the gypsum sands that make the dune field white are rooted in ancient carbonate and evaporite rocks that surround the basin. Runoff and groundwater supply from the Sacramento Mountains mobilize calcium and sulfur from these rocks to basin playas. Pleistocene pluvial Lake Otero occupied the basin as an ephemerally saline and freshwater lake and hosted a wider ange of fauna including humans, evidenced by extensive trackways. Increased aridity through the Holocene lowered lake levels resulting in deflation of lake strata and production of foredune ridges that accreted to produce to the modern dune field by ~7 kya. The modern dune field is shaped by the antecedent topography, a near surface water table that stabilizes the dunes and limits sediment availability, and a multi-modal wind regime dominated by southwesterly winds with a resultant toward 065° and subordinate northwesterly and southeasterly winds. Changes in dune types across the dune field from dome dunes to crescentic to barchan to parabolic reflect changes in spatial variation in grain size, wind speed, and groundwater salinity. The dominantly white landscape created by the unique history of this basin has given rise to fascinating endemism of white lizards, moths, and other species. Evidence for extensive gypsum dunes in the north polar regions of Mars makes White Sands an excellent analog for planetary studies.

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Acknowledgements

Thanks to David Bustos, White Sands National Park Natural Resources Manager, for long-term and continued support facilitating science. Direct support for research at White Sands included in this chapter was provided by task agreements to the author from the National Park Service through the Chihuahuan Desert Network.

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Correspondence to Ryan C. Ewing .

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Ewing, R.C. (2020). White Sands. In: Lancaster, N., Hesp, P. (eds) Inland Dunes of North America. Dunes of the World. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-40498-7_6

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