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A barchan or barkhan dune, also known as a transverse dune, word origin Russian (bär-ˈkän, -ˈḵän), from Turkistan, credited as introduced in 1881 by Russian naturalist Alexander von Middendorf, for crescent-shaped sand dunes in Turkistan and other inland desert regions. Barchans face the wind, appearing convex and are produced by wind action predominately from one direction. They are highly common, characteristic in sandy deserts all over the world and are arc-shaped, markedly asymmetrical in cross section, with a gentle slope facing toward the wind sand ridge, comprising well-sorted sand. This type of dune possesses two "horns" that face downwind, with the steeper slope known as the slip face, facing away from the wind, downwind, at the angle of repose of sand, approximately 30–35 degrees for medium-fine dry sand. The upwind side is packed by the wind, and stands at about 15 degrees. Barchans may be 9–30 m (30–100 feet) high and 370 m (1,214 feet) wide at the base measured perpendicular to the wind.
Simple barchan dunes may appear as larger, compound barchan or megabarchan dunes, which can gradually migrate with the wind as a result of erosion on the windward side and deposition on the leeward side, at a rate of migration ranging from about a metre to a hundred metres per year. Barchans usually occur as groups of isolated dunes and may form chains that extend across a plain in the direction of the prevailing wind. Barchans and megabarchans may coalesce into ridges that extend for hundreds of kilometers. Dune collisions and changes in wind direction that spawn new barchans from the horns of the old govern the size distribution in a given field.
As barchan dunes migrate, smaller dunes outpace larger dunes, bumping into the rear of the larger dune and eventually appear to punch through the large dune to appear on the other side. The process appears superficially similar to waves of light, sound, or water that pass directly through each other, but the detailed mechanism is very different. The dunes emulate soliton behavior, but unlike solitons, which flow through a medium leaving it undisturbed (think of waves through water), the sand particles themselves are moved. When the smaller dune catches up the larger dune, the winds begin to deposit sand on the rear dune while blowing sand off the front dune without replenishing it. Eventually, the rear dune has assumed dimensions similar to the former front dune which has now become a smaller, faster moving dune that pulls away with the wind.
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