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Europe’s highest sand dune, France's Dune du Pilat, is now blowing in the wind, say scientists

Scientists from the Aquitaine Coast Observatory measuring the Dunes du Pilat in southwestern France
Scientists from the Aquitaine Coast Observatory measuring the Dunes du Pilat in southwestern France © Observatoire de la Côte Aquitaine, 2020
2 min

Dune du Pilat the highest sand dune in Europe located on the coast of southwestern France, has lost nearly four meters of sand at its peak in one year due to heavy winds, according to the Aquitaine Coast Observatory (OCA) this week.

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In mid-May scientists measured the dune, which sits between the Atlantic Ocean and a pine forest, which came to 102.5m. It lost almost four meters since 2019, according to OCA, which is in charge of monitoring some 230km of coastline.

"This year, the succession of strong gales during autumn and winter would have contributed to causing a strong migration from the crest of the Dune towards the east,” which can reach up to 50m, according to a statement put out by OCA.

This lowered altitude, the most since scientists started measuring the dune in 2009, seems to be due to the sand spreading more into the forest, which has taken place in recent years.

The crest of the dune is very mobile and can move forwards or backwards, according to the wind direction.

Located in the Arcachon Basin in the Gironde department, the dune could encroach on the campsites nearby as well as the road, so scientists will continue to monitor movement.

Sand is also advancing in the other direction, towards the ocean, but the measurements taken in the northern central and southern parts of the 3km long, more than 600m wide dune reveal the differences in each portion.

A scientist at the top of the Dunes du Pilat, southwestern France.
A scientist at the top of the Dunes du Pilat, southwestern France. © Observatoire de la Côte Aquitaine, 2020.

OCA reports that chronic erosion in the northern sector in ongoing, as the coastline has shrunk by more than five meters, while the central and southern portions are rather stable.

The Dune du Pilat was created millions of years ago when the Pyrenees and Central Massif mountain ranges began to erode, and the nearby rivers transported the sand to the sea. Sand along the coast is transported by the sea and brought up onto the beach, where it blows inland.

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