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Abstract

The ground conditions relevant to construction in deserts are controlled to a great extent by geomorphological processes of landscape development acting on the extant geology and topography. Thus, examining the geomorphological ‘process–response’ system forms the basis for understanding the desert landscape and natural hazards to safe and economic construction (Chapter 4). Within the geomorphological systems, the balance between erosion, transportation and deposition caused by wind, water and gravity, linked to soil moisture deficit and the prevalence of salt compounds, is instrumental in creating distinctive morphological forms. In addition to contemporary geomorphological processes, the extent and location of desert areas have fluctuated throughout the Cenozoic, and in particular during the Quaternary. Thus, all existing deserts contain landforms created under different climatic regimes that remain as relict features that might or might not be stable under prevailing conditions.

In this chapter the processes that create desert landforms are presented under four categories:

  • rock weathering, disintegration and duricrust formation;

  • wind: sand and dust;

  • fluvial geomorphology;

  • subsurface water, salts and aggressive ground.

This is not a typical format for presenting desert geomorphology but is suitable for highlighting the features and processes that have engineering geological significance. For a classical treatment of desert geomorphology, reference should be made to Cooke et al. (1993) and Thomas (1997), which currently remain the definitive books on the subject.

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