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MIT Research News

September 27, 2018

Beach sand ripples can be fingerprints for ancient weather conditions

Experiments show shifting ripple patterns can signal times of environmental flux.

Jennifer Chu | MIT News Office

When a coastal tide rolls out, it can reveal beautiful ripples in the temporarily exposed sand. These same undulating patterns can also be seen in ancient, petrified seabeds that have been exposed in various parts of the world and preserved for millions or even billions of years.

Geologists look to ancient sand ripples for clues to the environmental conditions in which they formed. For instance, the spacing between ripples is proportional to the depth of the water and the size of the waves that molded the underlying ripples.