Please wait a minute...
Journal of Arid Land  2024, Vol. 16 Issue (5): 668-684    DOI: 10.1007/s40333-024-0075-2
Research article     
Utilizing sediment grain size characteristics to assess the effectiveness of clay-sand barriers in reducing aeolian erosion in Minqin desert area, China
SONG Dacheng1,2, ZHAO Wenzhi1,3,*(), LI Guangyu2, WEI Lemin3, WANG Lide1,2, YANG Jingyi1, WU Hao2, MA Quanlin1
1College of Forestry, Gansu Agricultural University, Lanzhou 730070, China
2Gansu Hexi Corridor Forest Ecosystem National Research Station, Gansu Desert Control Research Institute, Lanzhou 730070, China
3Linze Inland River Basin Research Station, Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Lanzhou 730000, China
Download: HTML     PDF(1375KB)
Export: BibTeX | EndNote (RIS)      


The clay-sand barriers in Minqin desert area, China, represent a pioneering windbreak and sand fixation project with a venerable history of 60 a. However, studies on evaluating the long-term effectiveness of clay-sand barriers against aeolian erosion, particularly from the perspective of surface sediment grain size, are limited and thus insufficient to ascertain the protective impact of these barriers on regional aeolian activities. This study focused on the surface sediments (topsoil of 0-3 cm depth) of clay-sand barriers in Minqin desert area to explain their erosion resistance from the perspective of surface sediment grain size. In March 2023, six clay-sand barrier sampling plots with clay-sand barriers of different deployment durations (1, 5, 10, 20, 40, and 60 a) were selected as experimental plots, and one control sampling plot was set in an adjacent mobile sandy area without sand barriers. Surface sediment samples were collected from the topsoil of each sampling plot in the study area in April 2023 and sediment grain size characteristics were analyzed. Results indicated a predominance of fine and medium sands in the surface sediments of the study area. The deployment of clay-sand barriers cultivated a fine quality in grain size composition of the regional surface sediments, increasing the average contents of very fine sand, silt, and clay by 30.82%, 417.38%, and 381.52%, respectively. This trend became markedly pronounced a decade after the deployment of clay-sand barriers. The effectiveness of clay-sand barriers in erosion resistance was manifested through reduced wind velocity, the interception of sand flow, and the promotion of fine surface sediment particles. Coarser particles such as medium, coarse, and very coarse sands predominantly accumulated on the external side of the barriers, while finer particles such as fine and very fine sands concentrated in the upwind (northwest) region of the barriers. By contrast, the contents of finest particles such as silt and clay were higher in the downwind (southeast) region of the sampling plots. For the study area, the deployment of clay-sand barriers remains one of the most cost-effective engineering solutions for aeolian erosion control, with sediment grain size parameters serving as quantitative indicators for the assessment of these barriers in combating desertification. The results of this study provide a theoretical foundation for the construction of windbreak and sand fixation systems and the optimization of artificial sand control projects in arid desert areas.

Key wordsclay-sand barriers      sediment grain size      grain size distribution      aeolian erosion      windbreak and sand fixation      Minqin desert area     
Received: 15 January 2024      Published: 31 May 2024
Corresponding Authors: *ZHAO Wenzhi (E-mail:
Cite this article:

SONG Dacheng, ZHAO Wenzhi, LI Guangyu, WEI Lemin, WANG Lide, YANG Jingyi, WU Hao, MA Quanlin. Utilizing sediment grain size characteristics to assess the effectiveness of clay-sand barriers in reducing aeolian erosion in Minqin desert area, China. Journal of Arid Land, 2024, 16(5): 668-684.

URL:     OR

Fig. 1 Wind direction rose of the study area from 2018 to 2022. N, north; NE, northeast; E, east; SE, southeast; S, south; SW, southwest; W, west; NW, northwest. Data were from the Gansu Minqin National Studies Station for Desert Steppe Ecosystem, and all data were monitored at wind speeds greater than 0.5 m/s.
Deployment duration (a) Latitude (N) Longitude (E) Altitude (m) Sand barrier specification
0 38°36′39″ 102°57′24″ 1324 Mobile sand without sand barrier
1 38°35′59″ 102°57′28″ 1321 Belt clay-sand barrier
5 38°37′34″ 102°55′40″ 1318 Belt clay-sand barrier
10 38°36′35″ 102°57′22″ 1320 Belt clay-sand barrier
20 38°36′10″ 102°57′45″ 1322 Belt clay-sand barrier
40 38°36′01″ 102°57′53″ 1317 Belt clay-sand barrier
60 38°34′49″ 102°58′30″ 1330 Belt clay-sand barrier
Table 1 Detailed information of the sampling plots
Fig. 2 Photographs showing the control sampling plot (a), clay-sand barrier sampling plots (b and c), and three sampling points within an clay-sand barrier sampling plot (d)
Mz (Φ) σ SK KG
Range Definition Range Definition Range Definition Range Definition
>8 Clay <0.35 Extremely good -1.00- -0.30 Very negative skewed <0.67 Very platykurtic
4-8 Silt 0.35-0.50 Good -0.30- -0.10 Negative skewed 0.67-0.90 Platykurtic
3-4 Very fine sand 0.50-0.71 Better -0.10-0.10 Near symmetrical 0.90-1.11 Mesokurtic
2-3 Fine sand 0.71-1.00 Medium 0.10-0.30 Positive skewed 1.11-1.56 Leptokurtic
1-2 Medium sand 1.00-2.00 Worse 0.30-1.00 Very positive skewed 1.56-3.00 Very leptokurtic
0-1 Coarse sand 2.00-4.00 Bad >3.00 Extremely leptokurtic
<0 Very coarse sand >4.00 Worst
Table 2 Grading standards of selected grain size parameters
Sampling plot Sediment grain size distribution (%)
Deployment duration (a) Position Clay
(<0.002 mm)
0.050 mm)
Very fine sand
0.100 mm)
Fine sand
0.250 mm)
Medium sand
0.500 mm)
Coarse sand
1.000 mm)
Very coarse sand
(>1.000 mm)
0 / 0.51±0.05 2.44±0.07 10.17±0.21 50.28±0.07 29.33±0.22 7.28±0.10 0.00±0.00
1 Upwind 0.18±0.00Eb 2.51±0.02Ec 7.57±0.10Eb 53.78±0.51Aa 31.27±0.44ABa 4.69±0.22Da 0.00±0.00Aa
Middle 4.29±0.02Ba 19.92±0.54Bb 8.77±0.54Da 44.10±1.55Ab 21.05±0.66Ec 1.81±1.87Da 0.06±0.11Ba
Downwind 4.35±0.41Ba 21.66±1.07Ca 6.91±0.35Db 38.36±2.48Ac 24.74±0.55Cb 3.91±1.79CDa 0.07±0.12Ba
5 Upwind 1.28±0.04Ca 4.57±0.13Da 20.23±0.49Ba 45.77±0.97Ba 18.61±0.69Dc 9.00±0.79Cc 0.54±0.18Ab
Middle 1.04±0.02Cb 4.36±0.06Ea 14.01±0.32Bb 35.72±0.76Cb 24.05±0.12Db 17.87±0.60Bb 2.95±0.65Aa
Downwind 0.89±0.11Dc 3.55±0.26Eb 10.25±0.66Cc 26.31±1.54Ec 27.94±0.24Ba 27.54±1.66Aa 3.52±0.68Aa
10 Upwind 2.03±0.05Bb 8.84±0.04Bb 17.93±0.26Ca 45.36±0.38Ba 22.68±0.32Cb 3.16±0.47Db 0.00±0.00Aa
Middle 0.98±0.03CDc 6.11±0.11Cc 10.63±0.32Cb 39.63±0.67Bb 35.72±0.56Ca 6.92±0.57Ca 0.00±0.00Ba
Downwind 3.33±0.02Ca 15.16±0.34Da 18.62±0.89Ba 35.43±1.84Bc 20.83±0.40Dc 6.35±2.19Ca 0.28±0.49Ba
20 Upwind 0.96±0.06Da 5.89±0.32Ca 10.35±0.67Da 34.91±1.84Dc 31.61±0.34Ac 15.87±2.29Aa 0.40±0.44Aa
Middle 0.97±0.03CDa 5.00±0.16DEb 7.05±0.27Eb 42.76±0.38Aa 37.37±0.54Bb 6.85±0.30Cc 0.00±0.00Ba
Downwind 0.70±0.02DEb 3.53±0.08Ec 6.72±0.12Db 38.56±0.79Ab 39.10±0.40Aa 11.39±0.65Bb 0.00±0.00Ba
40 Upwind 0.17±0.01Ec 3.68±0.11Dc 10.35±0.26Da 43.29±0.88Ca 30.39±0.05Bb 11.97±1.05Bb 0.16±0.17Aa
Middle 0.88±0.08Db 5.48±0.25CDb 4.82±0.11Fc 27.14±0.65Dc 39.88±0.36Aa 21.58±1.02Aa 0.22±0.13Ba
Downwind 7.03±0.19Aa 25.45±0.68Ba 9.67±0.17Cb 31.78±0.25Cb 21.09±0.88Dc 4.97±0.48CDc 0.00±0.00Ba
60 Upwind 4.45±0.26Ab 27.56±1.52Ab 24.14±1.33Ab 27.22±0.67Eb 11.52±0.89Ea 4.28±1.93Da 0.82±1.43Aa
Middle 5.81±0.18Aa 36.63±1.08Aa 28.29±1.02Aa 21.09±0.72Ec 4.73±0.62Fc 2.68±1.69Da 0.77±1.33Ba
Downwind 4.54±0.13Bb 27.33±0.95Ab 23.07±0.78Ab 33.86±0.95BCa 8.01±0.50Eb 2.35±1.30Da 0.85±1.48Ba
Table 3 Surface sediment grain size distribution at different positions of each clay-sand barrier sampling plot
Fig. 3 Variations in mean grain size (a-c), sorting (d-f), skewness (g-i), and kurtosis (j-l) of surface sediments in the upwind (northwest), middle, and downwind (southeast) regions of different clay-sand barrier sampling plots. Note that the values for the control sampling plot in the mobile sandy area without clay-sand barrier (deployment duration of 0 a) have no differences in positions.
Fig. 4 Relationship between the sorting and mean grain size (a), the skewness and mean grain size (b), and the kurtosis and mean grain size (c) of surface sediments in different sampling plots. The dashed lines in the diagram represents the category lines for each grain size parameter.
Fig. 5 Grain size frequency distribution curves (a, c, e, and g) and cumulative grain size frequency distribution curves (b, d, f, and h) of surface sediments at all positions and in the upwind (northwest), middle, and downwind (southeast) regions of different sampling plots. D-value means the difference between values in each clay-sand barrier sampling plot and mobile sand area.
[1]   Ahlbrandt T S. 1979. Textural parameters of aeolian deposits. In: MckeeE D. A Study of Global Sand Sea. U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1052, 21-51.
[2]   Bagnold R A. 1941. The Physics of Blown Sand and Desert Dunes. London: Methuen.
[3]   Bruno L, Coste N, Fransos D, et al. 2018. Shield for sand: an innovative barrier for windblown sand mitigation. Recent Patents on Engineering, 12(3): 237-246.
[4]   Cao B, Sun B P, Gao Y, et al. 2007. Effect of high-banded Salix psammophila sand-barriers on reduction of wind speed. Science of Soil and Water Conservation, 5(2): 40-45. (in Chinese)
[5]   Chang Z F, Zhong S N, Han F G, et al. 2000. Research of the suitable row spacing on clay barriers and straw barriers. Journal of Desert Research, 20(4): 455-457. (in Chinese)
[6]   Chen J P, Yu Z Y, Yang F, et al. 2023. Particle size characteristics of sandstorm and surface sand at Tazhong area of Taklimakan Desert, China. Journal of Desert Research, 43(2): 150-158. (in Chinese)
[7]   Chi Z, Xu X Y, Liu K L, et al. 2021. Study on soil particle size characteristics and spatial pattern of sand deposition in two types of sand barriers. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, 35(2): 113-121. (in Chinese)
[8]   Cui G P, Xiao C L, Lei J Q, et al. 2023. China's governance: Strategy choice and future vision for combating desertification. Bulletin of Chinese Academy of Sciences, 38(7): 943-955. (in Chinese)
[9]   Cui J, Dang X H, Wang J, et al. 2022. Characteristics of soil particle size and organic matter after five years of laying different specifications of degradable sand barriers. Research of Soil and Water Conservation, 29(2): 92-98. (in Chinese)
[10]   Ding A Q, Xie H C, Xu X Y, et al. 2018a. Influence of three different mechanical sand barriers to sand dune vegetation, soil particle size and moisture content in late stage. Soil and Water Conservation in China, 5: 59-63, 69. (in Chinese)
[11]   Ding Y L, Gao Y, Wang J, et al. 2018b. Effects of biodegradable poly lactic acid sand barriers on surface sediment grain-size characteristics at sand dunes. Journal of Desert Research, 38(2): 262-269. (in Chinese)
[12]   Dong Z B, Li Z S. 1998. Wind erodibility of aeolian sand as influenced by grainsize parameters. Journal of Soil Erosion and Soil and Water Conservation, 4(4): 1-5, 12. (in Chinese)
[13]   Dong Z W, Mao D L, Ye M, et al. 2022. Fractal features of soil grain-size distribution in a typical Tamarix cones in the Taklimakan Desert, China. Scientific Reports, 12: 16461, doi: 10.1038/s41598-022-20755-x.
[14]   Duan Z H, Liu X M, Qu J J, et al. 1996. Study on formation mechanism of soil crust in the Shapotou area. Arid Zone Research, 13(2): 31-36. (in Chinese)
[15]   Folk R L, Ward W C. 1957. Brazos River bar: a study in the significance of grain size parameters. Journal of Sedimentary Research, 27(1): 3-26.
[16]   Gao G L, Ding G D, Zhao Y Y, et al. 2016. Characterization of soil particle size distribution with a fractal model in the desertified regions of Northern China. Acta Geophysica, 64(1): 1-14.
[17]   Gao Y, Qiu G Y, Ding G D, et al. 2004. Effect of Salix psammophila checkerboard on reducing wind and stabilizing sand. Journal of Desert Research, 24(3): 365-370. (in Chinese)
[18]   Jia H F, Jia R L, Wu X L, et al. 2023. Effects of biocrust on soil swelling in arid desert. Journal of Desert Research, 43(2): 28-36. (in Chinese)
doi: 10.7522/j.issn.1000-694X.2022.00111
[19]   Khalilimoghadam B, Bagheri-Bodaghabadi M. 2020. Factors influencing the relative recovery rate of dunes fixed under different sand-fixing measures in southwest Iran. Catena, 194: 104706, doi: 10.1016/j.catena.2020.104706.
[20]   Labiadh M T, Rajot J L, Sekrafi S, et al. 2023. Impact of land cover on wind erosion in arid regions: a case study in southern Tunisia. Land, 12(9): 1648, doi: 10.3390/land12091648.
[21]   Li X R, Ma F Y, Xiao H L, et al. 2004. Long-term effects of revegetation on soil water content of sand dunes in arid region of Northern China. Journal of Arid Environments, 57(1): 1-16.
[22]   Liao K H, Lai X M, Jiang S Y, et al. 2021. Estimating the wetting branch of the soil water retention curve from grain-size fractions. European Journal of Soil Science, 72(1): 215-220.
[23]   Luo X Y, Li J R, Tang G D, et al. 2023. Interference effect of configuration parameters of vertical sand-obstacles on near-surface sand transport. Frontiers in Environmental Science, 11: 1215890, doi: 10.3389/FENVS.2023.1215890.
[24]   Luo Y X, Liu R T, Zhang J, et al. 2019. Soil particle composition, fractal dimension and their effects on soil properties following sand-binding revegetation within straw checkerboard in Tengger Desert, China. Chinese Journal of Applied Ecology, 30(2): 525-535. (in Chinese)
[25]   Ma R, Liu H J, Ma Y J, et al. 2013. Influences of sand fountain on sand-fixation of mechanical sand barriers. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, 27(5): 105-108, 114. (in Chinese)
[26]   Man D Q, Tang J N, Yang X M, et al. 2023. The change characteristics of 10 typical desert plant populations in Minqin desert area in 1960 to 2021. Journal of Desert Research, 43(6): 20-28. (in Chinese)
doi: 10.7522/j.issn.1000-694X.2023.00046
[27]   Meng J, Sun H, Teng C, et al. 2023. Improvement and application on the estimation model of windbreak and sand fixation function based on remote sensing soil moisture factors. Chinese Journal of Applied Ecology, 34(10): 2788-2796. (in Chinese)
doi: 10.13287/j.1001-9332.202310.022
[28]   Pan X, Wang Z Y, Gao Y. 2020. Effects of Compound sand barrier for habitat restoration on sediment grain-size distribution in Ulan Buh Desert. Scientific reports, 10(1): 2566, doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-59538-7.
pmid: 32054970
[29]   Piao Q H. 2010. Effect of different sand barriers on wind-break and sand fixation. PhD Dissertation. Beijing: Beijing Forestry University. (in Chinese)
[30]   Qiao Y S, Guo Z T, Hao Q Z, et al. 2006. The particle characteristics of the Miocene-Pleistocene loess-paleosol sequence and their implications for the genesis. Scientia Sinica (Terrae), 36(7): 646-653. (in Chinese)
[31]   Shahabinejad N, Mahmoodabadi M, Jalalian A, et al. 2019. The fractionation of soil aggregates associated with primary particles influencing wind erosion rates in arid to semiarid environments. Geoderma, 356: 113936, doi: 10.1016/j.geoderma.2019.113936.
[32]   Song J, Chun X, Bai X M, et al. 2016. Review of grain size analysis in China desert. Journal of Desert Research, 36(3): 597-603. (in Chinese)
doi: 10.7522/j.issn.1000-694X.2015.00142
[33]   Sun T, Liu H J, Zhu G Q, et al. 2012. Timeliness of reducing wind and stabilizing sand functions of three mechanical sand barriers in arid region. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, 26(4): 12-16, 22. (in Chinese)
[34]   Wang F, Liu S X, Jiang Y J, et al. 2023. Research on the effect of sand barriers on highways in desert areas on sand control. Sustainability, 15(18): 13906, doi: 10.3390/su151813906.
[35]   Wang H Y, Tong W, Liu J B, et al. 2022a. Soil wind erosion resistance analysis for soft rock and sand compound soil: A case study for the Mu Us Sandy Land, China. Open Geosciences, 14(1): 824-832.
[36]   Wang Q Q, Tang J N, Yang Z H, et al. 2017. Sand fixing effects of embedded plastic banding sand-barrier and its potential application. Soil and Water Conservation in China, (4): 35-38, 69. (in Chinese)
[37]   Wang T, Qu J J, Niu Q H. 2020. Comparative study of the shelter efficacy of straw checkerboard barriers and rocky checkerboard barriers in a wind tunnel. Aeolian Research, 43: 100575, doi: 10.1016/j.aeolia.2020.100575.
[38]   Wang Y S, Wang D D, Yu X X, et al. 2022b. Emissions of biological soil crust particulate matter and its proportion in total wind erosion. Land Degradation & Development, 33(16): 3118-3132.
[39]   Xu Z W, Mason J A, Xu C, et al. 2020. Critical transitions in Chinese dunes during the past 12,000 years. Science Advances, 6(9): 8020, doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aay8020.
pmid: 32133406
[40]   Yao J Z, Liu T X, Tong X, et al. 2016. Soil particle fractal dimension in the dune meadow ecotone of the Horqin Sandy Land. Journal of Desert Research, 36(2): 433-440. (in Chinese)
[41]   Zhang C L, Shen Y P, Li Q, et al. 2018. Sediment grain-size characteristics and relevant correlations to the aeolian environment in China's eastern desert region. Science of the Total Environment, 627: 586-599.
[42]   Zhang Z S, Dong Z B. 2012. The effect of wind erosion on the surface particle size. Journal of Arid Land Resources and Environment, 26(12): 86-89. (in Chinese)
[43]   Zhao M, Zhan K J, Yang Z H, et al. 2011. Characteristics of the lower layer of sandstorms in the Minqin desert-oasis zone. Science China Earth Sciences, 54(5): 703-710.
[44]   Zhao P, Xu X Y, Zhang Y N, et al. 2023. Age structure and its dynamics of artificial Haloxylon ammodendron population in Minqin oasis-desert ecotone. Acta Ecologica Sinica, 43(14): 6069-6079. (in Chinese)
[45]   Zheng X J, Bo T L. 2022. Representation model of wind velocity fluctuations and saltation transport in aeolian sand flow. Journal of Wind Engineering and Industrial Aerodynamics, 220: 104846, doi: 10.1016/J.JWEIA.2021.104846.
[46]   Zhou H, Liu Y X. 2022. Effects of soil crusts on physicochemical properties of shallow soil in alpine sandy area. Journal of Arid Land Resources and Environment, 36(8): 154-160. (in Chinese)
[47]   Zhou Y G, Li H Y, Wu Z F, et al. 2023. Sand fixation mechanism and effect evaluation of sand barriers in Mu Us sandy land, China. Chinese Science Bulletin, 68(11): 1312-1329. (in Chinese)
[1] CHEN Zongyan, XIAO Fengjun, DONG Zhibao. Fetch effect on the developmental process of aeolian sand transport in a wind tunnel[J]. Journal of Arid Land, 2020, 12(3): 436-446.
[2] YiBing QIAN, ZhaoNing WU, HaiFeng YANG, Chao JIANG. Spatial heterogeneity for grain size distribution of eolian sand soil on longitudinal dunes in the southern Gurbantunggut Desert[J]. Journal of Arid Land, 2009, 1(1): 26-33.