A dune is a landform composed of wind- or water-driven sand. It typically takes the form of a mound, ridge, or hill. An area with dunes is called a dune system or a dune complex. A large dune complex is called a dune field, while broad, flat regions covered with wind-swept sand or dunes with little or no vegetation are called ergs or sand seas. Dunes occur in different shapes and sizes, but most kinds of dunes are longer on the stoss side, where the sand is pushed up the dune, and have a shorter slip face in the lee side. The valley or trough between dunes is called a dune slack.
Dunes are most common in desert environments, where the lack of moisture hinders the growth of vegetation that would otherwise interfere with the development of dunes. However, sand deposits are not restricted to deserts, and dunes are also found along sea shores, along streams in semiarid climates, in areas of glacial outwash, and in other areas where poorly cemented sandstone bedrock disintegrates to produce an ample supply of loose sand. Subaqueous dunes can form from the action of water flow on sand or gravel beds of rivers, estuaries, and the sea-bed.
Some coastal areas have one or more sets of dunes running parallel to the shoreline directly inland from the beach. In most cases, the dunes are important in protecting the land against potential ravages by storm waves from the sea. Artificial dunes are sometimes constructed to protect coastal areas. The dynamic action of wind and water can sometimes cause dunes to drift, which can have serious consequences. For example, the town of Eucla, Western Australia, had to be relocated in the 1890s because of dune drift.
The modern word 'dune' came into English from French around 1790, which in turn came from Middle Dutch dūne.