US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in GSA Bulletin; January 2001; v. 113; no. 1; p. 75–87.


Mostly stabilized late Holocene eolian sands on the Southern High Plains of the United States were studied to determine their origins and to assess whether present dune stability depends more strongly on sediment supply, sediment availability, or transport limitations. Geomorphic, sedimentological, and geochemical trends indicate that late Holocene dunes formed under westerly paleowinds, broadly similar to those of today. Mineralogical and geochemical data indicate that the most likely source for the sands is not the Pecos River valley, but the Pleistocene Blackwater Draw Formation, an older, extensive eolian deposit in the region. These observations suggest that new sand is supplied whenever vegetation cover is diminished to the extent that the Blackwater Draw Formation can be eroded, in agreement with modern observations of wind erosion in the region. We conclude, therefore, that Southern High Plains dunes are stabilized primarily due to a vegetation cover. The dunes are thus sediment-availability limited. This conclusion is consistent with the observation that, in the warmest, driest part of the region (where vegetation cover is minimal), dunes are currently active over a large area. Geochemical data indicate that Southern High Plains dunes are the most mineralogically mature (quartz rich) sands yet studied in the Great Plains, which suggests a long history of eolian activity, either in the dune fields or during deposition of the Blackwater Draw Formation.