Dixie State University hosts ‘International Planetary Dunes Workshop’

Scientists attending the Fifth International Planetary Dunes Workshop hosted by Dixie State University visit Snow Canyon State Park during a field trip, St. George, Utah, May 18, 2017 | Photo courtesy of Kayla Coolbear/Dixie State University, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — As part of supporting current efforts to explore the further reaches of the solar system, Dixie State University recently hosted the “5th International Planetary Dunes Workshop: From the Bottom of the Oceans to the Outer Limits of the Solar System.”

Supported by Lunar and Planetary Institute, NASA Mars Exploration Office, NASA Solar System Workings Program and U.S. Geological Survey, the workshop was convened by Dr. Timothy Titus from the U.S. Geological Survey office in Flagstaff, Arizona, and Dr. Gerald Bryant, Dixie State University assistant professor of geology and coordinator of DSU’s Colorado Plateau Field Institute.

The workshop was hosted this year at Dixie State because of the university’s prime location relative to instructive field trip destinations, including a day trip to Zion National Park and Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park.

“DSU hosting the Fifth International Planetary Dunes Workshop provides an excellent example of engagement with the larger academic community, a process essential to our move from mere university status to full university stature,” Bryant said. “DSU is supporting this high-level research community as one facet of its emerging academic culture.”

Attracting scientists representing universities, government agencies and private research groups from around the globe, International Planetary Dunes Workshops are held every two to three years.

The workshops provide a forum for terrestrial and planetary aeolian scientists to share developments they’ve made and exchange new ideas concerning the investigation of wind-related processes that form and maintain dune fields on Earth and other planetary bodies.

Workshop attendees presented the latest remote sensing data and discussed formation theories for dunes located on Mars, Venus and Titan, the largest satellite of Saturn.

The development of Earth analogues for surface processes on these planetary bodies was a major thrust of this year’s workshop, which featured invited contributions from researchers focused on dune processes in both sub-aerial and sub-aqueous terrestrial environments.

While at Zion National Park, workshop attendees focused on the implications of extensive cross-sectional exposures of ancient aeolian dune deposits. The trip to the Coral Pink Sand Dunes allowed researchers to explore an active dunefield with a variety of dune types, developed within topographic constraints and shaped by seasonally reversing winds.

Additional, evening trips to Snow Canyon, Sand Cove and Moccasin Mountain provided opportunities for more detailed examination of the extraordinary architecture of the Navajo Sandstone.

Dixie State University offers geology courses as part of its physical sciences department, which provides students with the knowledge and skills necessary to understand, assess and utilize the elements of physical science they will encounter in everyday life.

Courses teach students how to make independent, empirical inquiries about the natural world, apply scientific principles, develop critical decision-making abilities and understand the roles physical sciences play in technological advancement.

To learn more about Dixie State University’s physical sciences department, visit the department’s webpage.

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