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Aeolian formations

Khongoryn Els singing dunes in Mongolia - some of the most impressive aeolian formations of the world
Khongoryn Els singing dunes in Mongolia – some of the most impressive aeolian formations of the world./ Richard Mortel, Flickr / CC BY 2.0

WorldBlue Described aeolian formations

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Rubjerg Knude lighthouse, Denmark. / ximes, Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Aeolian formations are landscape forms and other geological formations that have been created mainly by the wind.

In fact, the wind has shaped our landscape to a larger extent than most of us could imagine. The air has moved around millions of tons of sand and dust, sculpted stones, cliffs, and hoodoos.

The best known of aeolian formations are dunes – hills or ridges from wind-swept sand. Dunes are common along the seacoast and in the deserts but there are beautiful dune complexes even in the Arctic: during the Ice Age and after it, there was no vegetation in many areas and strong winds moved lots of sand unhindered.

In the scarce and rigid soil of dunes form specific ecosystems with many rare and unique species of plants and animals. In many locations dunes have covered also man-made heritage – houses and even whole villages. Most likely, these structures are well-conserved in the sand. But, above all, dunes are just beautiful!

Wind has shaped many hoodoos and eerie rock formations as well. Other forces of nature are involved in this too: temperature changes, water, and chemical reactions.

WorldViolet Top 25 aeolian formations



Namibia, Hardap

Claypan, a visually stunning place with blackened, many centuries-old trunks of dead acacia against orange sand dunes.

Seven Coloured Earths


Site with an eerie landscape, formed by dunes that are colored in seven distinct colors – blue, brown, green, purple, red, violet, and yellow.

Seven Colored Earths, Mauritius
Seven Colored Earths / Andy Cardiff, / CC BY 2.0
Dune 7

Namibia, Erongo

Very tall sand dunes, 383 m high. The name comes from the fact that this is the seventh dune after the crossing of the Tsauchab River.

Dune 7, Namibia
Dune 7, Namibia./ Zairon, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0
Dune 45

Namibia, Hardap

Visually impressive, up to 170 m tall sand dune. One of the most photographed aeolian formations in the world. The sand in this dune is some 5 million years old.

Dune 45, Namibia
Dune 45 / Stuart Orford, Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0.
Big Daddy dune

Namibia, Hardap

325 m tall sand dune.

Big Daddy dune rises over Deadvlei, Namibia
Big Daddy dune rises over Deadvlei, Namibia./ Keith Roper, Flickr / CC BY 2.0
The Shifting Sands of Oldupai

Tanzania, Arusha

Black parabolic dune that contrasts with the color of surrounding plains. This dune has formed from the volcanic ash of Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano and moves some 10 – 20 m every year.

The Shifting Sands of Oldupai
The Shifting Sands of Oldupai./ R Boed, Flickr / CC BY 2.0


Dunhuang Yardang National Geopark

China, Gansu

A complex of parallel protrusions of bedrock (yardangs) – an eerie landscape with numerous diverse rock formations. These formations have been sculpted mostly by wind and rain.

In the Dunhuang Yardang National Geopark
In the Dunhuang Yardang National Geopark./ lwtt93, Flickr / CC BY 2.0
Khongoryn Els singing dunes

Mongolia, Bayankhongor

Impressive system of dunes, several hundred meters tall. Dunes emit eerie, humming sounds in the wind or when walking.

Khongoryn Els singing dunes, Mongolia
Khongoryn Els singing dunes / Alastair Rae, / CC BY-SA 2.0
Singing Barchan (Akkum-Kalkan)

Kazakhstan, Almaty Province

This is an enormous sand dune that often emits a strong, booming sound that is created by the friction of sand grains. Sandy ridge is up to 120 m high and 1.5 km long.

Singing Sand Dune, Kazakhstan
Singing Sand Dune / Jonas Satkauskas, Wikimedia Commons / copyleft
Rig-e Yalan Dune

Iran, Kerman

480 m high sand dune in an enormous dune complex.

Bilutu Peak

China, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region

Very tall stationary dune that rises some 450 m above its base. This is an interesting megadune – like other megadunes in the Badain Jaran Desert, it has the effect of singing sand. Nearby other aeolian formations are of a similar height, Wushumu Dune is even 528 m high.

View from Bilutu Peak
View from Bilutu Peak./ Sjoerd van Oort, Flickr / CC BY-SA 3.0
Chara Sands

Russia, Zabaykalsky Krai

Unusual desert – inland dunes in the middle of Siberia. This desert is some 9 by 4 km large and has roaming sand dunes that cover the forest. Separate dunes are up to 80 m high.

Chara Sands
Chara Sands./ Ellebedeva, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0
Hami Singing Dune (Hami Mingsha Hill)

China, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region

Reportedly, the best singing dune in China. The sound is created by the wind and also by walking on dunes.

Australia and Oceania

Fraser Island

Australia, Queensland

The largest sand island in the world, 1,840 km². Contains dunes that are up to 24 meters high, tall rainforests growing at elevations up to 200 meters, unique ‘vallum’ heaths, and more than 100 unique, crystal clear dune lakes retained in the sand by organic matter deposits.

Champagne Pools in Fraser island
Champagne Pools in Fraser island. / Eduardo M. C., Flickr / CC BY 2.0


The Great Dune of Pilat (Dune du Pilat)

France, Nouvelle-Aquitaine

A beautiful nature monument – one of the tallest sand dunes in Europe. It is up to 120 m high and represents a massif that is 500 m wide and 3 km long. Dune has covered houses and trees.

The Great Dune of Pilat
The Great Dune of Pilat./ Dennis Jarvis, Flickr / CC BY-sa 2.0

North America

White Sands

United States, New Mexico

710 km2 of pure white gypsum sands.

White Sands, New Mexico
White Sands, New Mexico./ Woody Hibbard, Flickr / CC BY 2.0
Racetrack Playa

United States, California

Dry lake in Death Valley, where the “sailing stones” have left traces in the mud. Stones are moved by the wind in wet mud together with thin ice sheets at the moment when ice sheets are melting.

Racetrack Playa
Racetrack Playa. / John Fowler, Flickr / CC BY 2.0
Athabasca Sand Dunes

Canada, Saskatchewan

Unique geophysical feature – largest inland sand dune massif in the world, 100 kilometers long. Sand dunes reach up to 300 meters in height. Contains 9 endemic plant species which is unique for a location that is far north.

Athabasca Sand Dunes
Athabasca Sand Dunes. / Tim Beckett, Flickr / CC BY 2.0
Samalayuca Dune Fields

Mexico, Chihuahua

Several dune fields, a part of the Chihuahua Desert region. Sands consist of pure quartz and are nearly white. In these sands lives a high number of rare and endemic species – most of the 248 plants and 154 animal (mostly – bee) species are found only there.

Samalayuca Dune Fields
Samalayuca Dune Fields./ Giulian Frisoni, Flickr / CC BY 2.0
Hole-in-the-Rock in Papago Park

United States, Arizona

Amazing geological formation – large, several meters high holes in a large sandstone rock that rises from the surrounding desert. These openings – tafoni – presumably, were formed by the action of water and wind.

Hole-in-the-Rock in Papago Park
Hole-in-the-Rock in Papago Park./ Joe Flood, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

South America

Árbol de Piedra

Bolivia, Potosí

Amazing cliff formation – a mushroom/tree-formed rock in the desert, standing on a thin “foot”.

Árbol de Piedra, Bolivia
Árbol de Piedra, Bolivia./ Pedro Szekely, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0
Lençóis Maranhenses

Brazil, Maranhão

This is a huge area with sweeping sand dunes that are almost totally devoid of vegetation. Thanks to abundant rain dunes are adorned with beautiful deep blue lagoons with fish living there.

Lençóis Maranhenses with lagoon, Brazil
Lençóis Maranhenses with lagoon / , Flickr / CC BY 2.0
Duna Federico Kirbus

Argentina, Catamarca

The highest sand dune in the world with a height difference of 1,230 meters.

Cerro Blanco

Peru, Ica

A giant dune perched high in the mountains. Its summit is at 2,080 m height but the height of the sand slope is approximately 780 m high. This is a beautiful sandboarding destination.

Cerro Blanco, Peru
Cerro Blanco, Peru./ Medhus, Flickr / CC BY 2.0
Cerro Marcha (Duna Grande)

Peru, Ica

The highest dune in Peru and the second highest in the world. This mountain of sand rises 924 m above its surroundings.

Duna Grande in Peru
Duna Grande in Peru./ Organización Duna Grande// Todomotor, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

WorldYellow Recommended books

Aeolian Geomorphology: A New Introduction

The new, revised and updated edition of Aeolian Geomorphology offers a concise and highly accessible introduction to the subject. The text covers the topics of deserts and coastlines, as well as periglacial and planetary landforms. The authors review the range of aeolian characteristics that include soil erosion and its consequences, continental scale dust storms, sand dunes and loess.

Dunes: Dynamics, Morphology, History

Dunes is the first book in over a decade to incorporate the latest research in this active and fast-developing field. It discusses the shapes, sizes, patterns, distribution, history and care of wind-blown dunes, and covers all aspects of dunes, terrestrial and in the Solar System.

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