Bilutu megadunes and lakes in the Badain Jaran Desert


Bilutu Sand Peak and interdune lake.

Geological Period

Late Quaternary

Main geological interest

Geomorphology and active geological processes


Alxa Desert Geopark, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, China.
39°32’00.0″N, 102°05’00.0″E

Bilutu Sand Peak and interdune lake.


The unique megadune-lake system and the largest dunes in the world are the product of Asian inland aridity, and directly and objectively reflect the history and process in this area. The site, located in the west wind and monsoon transition zone and northeast edge of Qinghai-Xizang Plateau, is an ideal area to study late Quaternary climate change along with the uplift of Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, and water resources in the arid area of aeolian landform. It is also of great practical significance for studying people’s livelihood-related matters, such as aeolian sand control.

Megadunes and interdune lakes in the Badain Jaran Desert.

The Badain Jaran Desert (BJD) hosts the largest megadunes in the world and the unique megadune-lake system (Chen et al., 2019). Most of the megadunes are over 300m high, with the highest, the Bilutu Sand Peak, a compound transverse dune, of 450m (Dong et al., 2004). Currently, there are more than 100 lakes in the site, mostly smaller than 1km2. The bottom age of the desert is ca. 1100 ka. The site is located in the transitional zone between the Asian summer monsoon and the Westerlies, and it is west of the Yabrai Fault. The climate changes and tectonic evolution of Yabrai Fault play important roles in the formation and maintenance of the unique megadune-lake system in the BJD. During the humid periods since MIS 15, extensive lakes developed. Climate changes led to fixation, reactivation and ultimate formation of megadunes. Uplift of the Yabrai Mountains formed a topographic barrier, which suppresses and enhances sand transport by affecting climate, wind and water circulation (Wang et al., 2015; Du et al., 2019). The megadunes in the BJD are becoming higher and steeper because of the upward migration and accumulation of sands that originate from the lake basin (wang et al., 2019).

The early scientific study of the site dates to 1927. Systematical and in-depth investigation and research of the BJD began in the 1960s, and more than 150 papers have been published. This site has been well managed and protected within the Alxa Desert UNESCO Global Geopark since 2009.

Geological map of the site (Du et al., 2021).

Chen, T. et al. (2019) ‘Luminescence chronology and palaeoenvironmental significance of limnic relics from the Badain Jaran Desert, northern China’, Journal of Asian Earth Sciences, 177, pp. 240–249. Available at:

Dong, Z., Wang, T. and Wang, X. (2004) ‘Geomorphology of the megadunes in the Badain Jaran Desert’, Geomorphology, 60(1), pp. 191–203. Available at:

Du, J. et al. (2021) ‘Cenozoic tectono-geomorphic evolution of Yabrai Mountain and the Badain Jaran Desert (NE Tibetan Plateau margin)’, Geomorphology, 389, p. 107857. Available at:

Wang, F. et al. (2015) ‘Formation and evolution of the Badain Jaran Desert, North China, as revealed by a drill core from the desert centre and by geological survey’, Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 426, pp. 139–158. Available at:

Wang, X. et al. (2019) ‘Optical dating reveals that the height of Earth’s tallest megadunes in the Badain Jaran Desert of NW China is increasing’, Journal of Asian Earth Sciences, 185, p. 104025. Available at:

TIAN Mingzhong
China University of Geosciences (Beijing), China

SUN Hongyan
China University of Geosciences (Beijing), China

China University of Geosciences (Beijing), China AND Alax Desert UNESCO Global Geopark

Alax Desert UNESCO Global Geopark, Inner Mongolia, China