The Australian desert dunefields: Formation and evolution in an old, flat, dry continent

Paul P. Hesse*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Citations (Scopus)


A new map, the first based on interpretation of satellite imagery, reveals both the complexity of Australia's dunefields and their relationships with topography, climate and substrate. Of the five main sand seas, the Mallee, Strzelecki and Simpson in eastern Australia cover Quaternary sedimentary basins whereas the Great Victoria and Great Sandy dunefields in the west are formed by reworking of valley and piedmont sediments in a non-basinal landscape of low-relief ridge and valley topography. These dunefields cover large areas of the arid zone and semi-arid zone and small areas of dunes in sub-humid areas around the margins of the continent reflecting past expansion of arid climates during glacial stages of the last several glacial cycles. Several areas of low relief stand out as being largely dune-free: the limestone Nullarbor Plain, clay plains of the Georgina Basin and floodplains of rivers in the Carpentaria, Lake Eyre and Murray-Darling drainage basins where sand is rare or not transported by diminished Late Quaternary rivers. The Yilgarn Block of southwestern Australia is also surprisingly free of dunes, possibly as a result of long, deep weathering. Everywhere the history of climate change is evident in dune morphology and distribution, including large areas where the sand dune orientations are markedly divergent from modern sand moving wind directions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)141-164
Number of pages24
JournalGeological Society Special Publication
Publication statusPublished - 2010


Dive into the research topics of 'The Australian desert dunefields: Formation and evolution in an old, flat, dry continent'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this