Ripple marks

Wave/symmetrical ripple, Nomgon, Mongolia
Cross-section through asymmetric climbing ripples, seen in the Zanskar Gorge, Ladakh, NW Indian Himalaya. Ripples climb when sediment fluxes in the flow are very high.

In geology, ripple marks are sedimentary structures (i.e. bedforms of the lower flow regime) and indicate agitation by water (current or waves) or wind.

Defining ripple cross-laminae and asymmetric ripples

Ripple marks in Cretaceous Dakota Formation, east side of Dinosaur Ridge. Scale bar on notebook is 10 cm.

Straight ripples generate cross-laminae that all dip in the same direction, and lay in the same plane. These forms of ripples are constructed by unidirectional flow of the current.


Sinuous ripples generate cross-laminae that are curvy. They show a pattern of curving up and down as shown in picture. Sinuous ripples produce trough cross lamination. All laminae formed under this type of ripple dip at an angle to the flow as well as downstream. These are also formed by unidirectional flow of current.


Catenary ripples generate cross-laminae that are curvy but have a unidirectional swoop. They show a pattern similar to what a repeated "W" would look like. Like the sinuous ripples, this form of ripple is created by unidirectional flow with the dip at an angle to the flow as well as downstream.

Linguoid / Lunate

Linguoid ripples have lee slope surfaces that are curved generating a laminae similar to caternary and sinuous ripples. Linguoid ripples generate an angle to the flow as well as downstream. Linguoid ripples have a random shape rather than a "W" shape, as described in the catenary description. Lunate ripples, meaning crescent shaped ripples, are exactly like linguoid ripples except that the stoss sides are curved rather than the lee slope. All other features are the same.

Size (scale)[4]
Size Description
Very small Very small cross-lamination means that the ripple height is roughly one centimeter. It is lenticular, wavy and flaser lamination.
Small Small cross-bedding are ripples set at a height less than ten centimeters, while the thickness is only a few millimeters. Some ripples that may fit this category are wind ripples, wave ripples, and current ripples.
Medium Medium cross-lamination are ripples with a height greater than ten centimeters, and less than one meter in thickness. Some ripples that may fit this category would be current-formed sandwaves, and storm-generated hummocky cross stratification.
Large Large cross-bedding are ripples with a height greater than one meter, and a thickness equivalent to one meter or greater. Some ripples that may fit this category would be high energy river-bed bars, sand waves, epsilon cross-bedding and Gilbert-type cross-bedding.

Ripple marks in different environments

Wave-formed ripples

Main article: Wave-formed ripple

Ripple marks formed by aeolian processes

Wind ripples on crescent-shaped sand dunes (Barchans) in Southwest Afghanistan (Sistan).
Normal ripples
Also known as impact ripples, these occur in the lower part of the lower flow regime sands with grain sizes between 0.3-2.5 mm and normal ripples form wavelengths of 7-14 cm Normal ripples have straight or slightly sinuous crests approximately transverse to the direction of the wind.
These occur in the upper part of the lower flow regime where sand with bimodal particle size distribution forms unusually long wavelength of 1-25 m where the wind is not strong enough to move the larger particles but strong enough to move the smaller grains by saltation.
Fluid drag ripples
Also known as aerodynamic ripples, these are formed with fine, well-sorted grain particles accompanied by high velocity winds which result in long, flat ripples. The flat ripples are formed by long saltation paths taken by grains in suspension and grains on the ground surface.


Crest and trough
The point on a wave with the maximum value or height. It is the location at the peak of the wave cycle as shown in picture to the right.
The opposite of a crest, so the minimum value or height in a wave. It is the location at the very lowest point of a wave cycle also shown in picture to right.
The lee side has a steeper slope than the stoss. The lee is always on the back side of the ripple, which is also on the opposite side of where the current flow meets the ripple. The current flows down the lee side.
The stoss is the side of a wave or ripple that has a gentle slope versus a steeper slope. Current always flows up the stoss side and down the lee side. This can be used to determine current flow during the time of ripple formation.

See also


Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ripple marks.
  1. Boggs Jr., Sam. (2006) Principles of Sedimentology and Stratigraphy, 4th ed.
  2. Potter, Pettijohn. (1977) Paleocurrents and Basin Analysis
  3. Nichols, Gary. (2009) Sedimentology and Stratigraphy, Wiley, ISBN 978-1405135924
  4. Stow, Dorrik A.V., (2009) Sedimentary Rocks in the Field: A Color Guide, Academic Press, ISBN 978-0123694515
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