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As sand and pebbles move, so does the landscape

NSF Award:

North Dakota: Research Infrastructure and Partnerships for Discovery  (North Dakota State University Fargo)

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The annual transport of sand and pebbles on the Earth's surface often goes unnoticed. However, a geology team from the University of North Dakota, led by Jaakko Putkonen, has discovered that the movement of seemingly small amounts account for large changes in the landscape. Measurements from eastern Sierra Nevada, Calif., and Antarctica show movement of large amounts of sand and pebbles from these sites. Generally, the dirt is transported downhill. This removal and transport of dirt makes the landscape smoother and evens out hills.

The findings counter a previously held assumption that the land's surface changes little over periods of thousands to millions of years.The researchers showed that the landscape is dynamic and undergoes constant change. In Antarctica, for example, researchers thought that the landscape was literally frozen in time, but Putkonen's findings demonstrate that dirt is slowly removed and transported away.


  • researchers use gps to measure the movement of boulders over time
GPS equipment tracks boulder movement over time.
Jaakko Putkonen, University of North Dakota

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