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International Space Station Imagery
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado
high res (1.3 M) low res (100 K)
ISS016-E-006986 (26 Oct. 2007) --- Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado is featured in this image photographed by an Expedition 16 crewmember on the International Space Station. The Sangre de Cristo Mountains of south-central Colorado stretch dramatically from top left to lower right of this image, generally outlined by the dark green of forests with white snow-capped peaks on the highest elevations. Dun-colored dunes, covering an area of 80 square kilometers, are banked up on the west side of the mountains and comprise the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. Originally established in 1932 as a National Monument, it was reauthorized as a National Park in 2004. The park contains dunes over 750 feet (227 meters) high -- among the highest in North America. Sand grains that make up the dunes are small enough to be moved along by the wind (a process known as saltation), although much of the dunefield is now anchored by vegetation. Predominant winds blow broadly to the east, so that sand in the San Luis valley (part of which appears at lower left) is driven towards and piled against the Sangre de Cristo Mts. The sand of the dunes is mostly derived from ancient exposed lakebed sediments - now the floor of the San Luis valley - formed by erosion of rocks in the Sangre de Cristo and San Juan Mountains (located to the west). The action of streams and occasional storms today returns some of the impounded sand back to the valley, where the prevailing winds begin the sand's migration to the dunefield anew. Interestingly, the specific location of the sand field appears to be related to a locally lower altitude sector of the Sangre de Cristo Mts. Altitudes can be inferred from the distribution of snow cover on the day this image was taken. Areas to the north (Cleveland Peak and northward) of the dunefield, and to the south around Blanca Peak, are higher than the ridgeline next to the dune field where almost no snow is visible. Since winds are preferentially channeled over the lower parts of any range (hundreds of meters lower here than ridgelines to north and south), sand grains are carried up to (but not over) the low point of the range.

Curator: JSC PAO Web Team | Responsible NASA Official: Amiko Kauderer | Updated: 10/30/2012
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