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Science. 2003 Jan 17;299(5605):380-3.

Self-organization of sorted patterned ground.

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Complex Systems Laboratory, Cecil and Ida Green Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093, USA.


Striking circular, labyrinthine, polygonal, and striped patterns of stones and soil self-organize in many polar and high alpine environments. These forms emerge because freeze-thaw cycles drive an interplay between two feedback mechanisms. First, formation of ice lenses in freezing soil sorts stones and soil by displacing soil toward soil-rich domains and stones toward stone-rich domains. Second, stones are transported along the axis of elongate stone domains, which are squeezed and confined as freezing soil domains expand. In a numerical model implementing these feedbacks, circles, labyrinths, and islands form when sorting dominates; polygonal networks form when stone domain squeezing and confinement dominate; and stripes form as hillslope gradient is increased.

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