Salt polygons and porous media convection

Jana Lasser*, Joanna M. Nield, Marcel Ernst, Volker Karius, Giles F. S. Wiggs, Matthew R. Threadgold, Cédric Beaume, Lucas Goehring

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


From fairy circles to patterned ground and columnar joints, natural patterns spontaneously appear in many complex geophysical settings. Here, we investigate the origins of polygonally patterned crusts of salt playa and salt pans. These beautifully regular features, approximately a meter in diameter, are found worldwide and are fundamentally important to the transport of salt and dust in arid regions. We show that they are consistent with the surface expression of buoyancy-driven convection in the porous soil beneath a salt crust. By combining quantitative results from direct field observations, analog experiments, and numerical simulations, we further determine the conditions under which salt polygons should form, as well as how their characteristic size emerges.
Original languageEnglish
Article number011025
JournalPhysical Review X
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2023


  • pattern formation
  • salt desert
  • porous medium
  • geomorphology
  • nonlinear dynamics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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