EGU General Assembly 2021
© Author(s) 2021. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Listen to a spectre – the potential role of environmental seismology in desert process research

Michael Dietze
Michael Dietze
  • GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, Geomorphology, Potsdam, Germany (

Desert research has a bold track record in deciphering the evolution of landforms. While iconic objects such as inselbergs, yardangs, wadis or dune fields have attracted the attention of scientists for decades and inspired them to develop numerous formation concepts, it is the actual processes, which are suggested to govern their formation, that are usually quite hard to survey as they happen in nature. This amiguitity is due to the often unpredictable, event based, rapid yet episodic nature of their occurrence. While dedicated devices for measuring these processes inevitably exist, they are either confronted with a small spatial footprint (point measurement) or temporal discontinuousity (time lapse data), or even both of these drawbacks. As a consequence, important processes like flash floods, bedload agitation, mass movement on hillslopes, thermal weathering, dune migration rate and mechanism, or averaged information about ground moisture change, substrate rheology, and temperature diffusion can be studied as they happen under natural conditions only in exceptional cases.

Here I summarise recent developments from the field of environmental seismology, an emerging discipline that studies the seismic signals emitted by Earth surface processes, with a focus on existing and potential applications to desert environments. I present seismic approaches to detecting, tracking and quantifying flash floods and the sediment they convey, provide an overview of the capabilites of seismology to survey hillslope activity at the catchment scale, and discuss the potential to monitor surface and subsurface activity at the plot scale. The overarching aim of the contribution is to foster a discussion about potential research questions that could be tackled in future joint (i.e., established and seismic sensor) instrumentation projects.

How to cite: Dietze, M.: Listen to a spectre – the potential role of environmental seismology in desert process research, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-3350,, 2021.


Display file