The ancient mathematical law hidden in sand ripples | The Optimist Daily
Today’s Solutions: June 21, 2024
Mathematics and nature

Nature has always served as a source of inspiration to understand mathematics. From the symmetry of snowflakes to the growth of fractal patterning tree roots, and logarithmic spirals in shells and spider webs. We can learn so much from mother Earth.

The latest discovery of this kind comes from sand waves, a phenomenon seen across the globe formed from the wind whipping the grains into repeating patterns. Though the inspiration for this research, published in Nature Communications, did not come from quaint sandy beaches but rather mega ripples. These are the huge dune sized formations seen across sandy deserts and even on other planets such as Mars.

Grain distribution in mega ripples

An interesting mathematical feature of these structures was observed after never being spotted before in decades of research. The group found that when dividing the diameters of the coarsest and finest grains in a certain area, the number always equals around the same.

As the wind whips the sand across the land, the finer grains work to kick up the coarser ones. Because of this, they travel at different rates and are distributed in a way where coarse grains collect on the crests of the ripples and fine grains settle in troughs.

How can this knowledge be applied?

The group hopes that they will be able to use this understanding to gain deeper insight into not just our own planet’s history, but extraterrestrial ones also. “It might then be possible to evaluate the sand structures we are currently observing, for example on Mars or in fossils and remote locations on Earth, as complex archives of past climatic conditions,” said theoretical physicist Katharina Tholen, author of the paper from Leipzig University.

Source study: Nature CommunicationsMegaripple mechanics: bimodal transport ingrained in bimodal sands

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