A model of wind-blown sand transport is described with particular emphasis on the feedback between the grain cloud and the near-surface wind. The results from this model are used to develop Owen's (1964) hypothesis that ‘the grain layer behaves, so far as the flow outside it is concerned, as increased aerodynamic roughness whose height is proportional to the thickness of the layer’. The hypothesis is developed to show the influence this dynamic roughness has on the turbulent boundary layer above the saltation layer. Two processes are identified which influence the path of the system towards equilibrium. The first is the feedback between the near-surface wind and the grain cloud in which the quantity of sand transported is limited by the carrying capacity of the wind. The second is due to the temporal development of an internal boundary layer in response to the additional roughness imposed on the flow above the grain layer by the grain cloud. A similarity is noted between the temporal response of a turbulent boundary layer to sand transport and the spatial response of a turbulent boundary layer downstream of a step increase in surface roughness. Finally it is noted that the work may have important implications for transport rate prediction in unsteady winds.