Using portable luminescence to explore dune dynamics in the western Thar desert, India

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentationResearch


The densely populated Thar Desert in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent contains a complex spatial pattern of now vegetated dune morphologies. There is a growing dataset of luminescence ages that demonstrates a dominance of Holocene dune dynamics in the preserved record (e.g., Srivastava et al, 2020; Parida et al., 2023; Nitundil et al., 2023). This region is undergoing rapid change in recent decades with widespread flattening of dunes for agricultural land, which is fed by the Indira Gandhi Canal that provides water for irrigation.

Our work has developed a training set of >40 samples with published luminescence ages to create a calibration approach for the signals measured using portable luminescence readers (POSL) (Nitundil et al., 2023). Other POSL signal characteristics, such as IRSL:BSL ratios are a good indicator that the Thar sands have a broadly common sedimentary provenance, as well as transport processes and post-depositional histories of mineral weathering. During this work, a rigorous exploration of sediment properties, including moisture content and presence of carbonate was undertaken, and from this, guiding principles for building a calibration curve were developed.

Vegetated linear dunes have been sampled in five regions along a ~75 km north-south transect in the western Thar. The POSL calibration has been applied to determine estimated ages for three dunes at the second most northerly site, to shallow depths (2 m) (Nitundil et al., 2023), and from multiple profiles within two dunes at each of three other sites along the transect (a further 19 shallow, 2 m profiles). Fieldwork in September 2023 focussed on obtaining close to full dune vertical profiles via auguring (~10 m depth) from three sites, as well as exploring dynamics across and along a dune using ~0.8 m hand dug pits. This presentation will highlight key findings from the calibration exercise, and present POSL-based ages estimates across the western Thar to explore what they reveal about Holocene dune accumulation in this region.
Period4 Jan 20247 Jan 2024
Event titleQRA Annual Discussion Meeting 2024: Changing Resolutions in Quaternary Science
Event typeConference
LocationManchester, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Drylands
  • Dryland dunes
  • Quaternary Science
  • Luminescence Dating
  • Portable Luminescence Reader
  • Monsoon dynamics

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Manchester Environmental Research Institute
  • Global inequalities