This photograph of cloud bands over southern Mauritania was taken from the International Space Station with an oblique angle such that the cloud shadows are a prominent part of the view. Beneath the clouds, the plateau of dark sedimentary rocks appears as a ragged, near-vertical escarpment (image top right). Isolated remnants of the plateau appear as dark mesas (flat-topped hills) across the top and near the centre of the image. The escarpment is about 250 metres high, with a field of orange-coloured dunes at the base (image upper right).
Prevailing winds in this part of the Sahara Desert blow from the northeast. (Note that north is to the right.) The wavy dunes are aligned transverse (roughly right angles) to these winds. The sand that makes the dunes is blown in from a zone immediately upwind (just out of the bottom of the image), where dry river beds and dry lakes provide large quantities of mobile sand. This pattern is typical in the western Sahara Desert, where plateau surfaces are mostly dune free and dune fields are located in the surrounding lowlands. Larger rivers deposit sandy sediment on the few occasions when they flow, sometimes only once in decades.
Image credit: Nasa