Abstract

Unique wind ripples attaining heights to 2.3 m, wavelengths to 43 m, and a crest maximum grain size of 19 mm occur on the Argentine Puna Plateau at ~4000 m altitude. These are the largest ripples reported on Earth, comparable only to Mars counterparts. They form in the presence of high proportions of low-density pumice clasts (0.91 g/cm3), although crests are exclusively composed of varnished, normal-density clasts (2.43 g/cm3). Mature ripple profiles are partly excavated on bedrock, so they form by a combination of deflation, winnowing of finer grains, minor wind drift of fine gravel, and lagging of clasts >4 cm. The large ripple size appears to be related to strong winds, dense saltation layers, and a long time for evolution. Ripple sizes are smaller on obstacles, as compared to flat terrain; there is a lack of correlation between clast size, wavelength, and the extreme ripple size (in spite of the thin atmosphere), all of which suggest that while small-scale gravel ripples may form according to a reptation model, their evolution into large-scale types may relate to aerodynamic instabilities originating at the saltation curtain–air interface.

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