US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in Quaternary International 67 (2000) 107-118.


A prominent (4500 km2) dune field in the Great Plains is the Great Bend Sand Prairie of south-central Kansas. Dunes here overlie late Quaternary alluvium and were reactivated extensively in the late Holocene. Geomorphic and soil evidence suggests that the most likely eolian sand source is the Arkansas River valley to the northwest. Nevertheless, orientations of stabilized dunes indicate that the most recent dune-forming winds came from the south or southwest, in agreement with modern wind data.

Mineralogy and trace element concentrations in eolian sands of the Great Bend Sand Prairie are similar to those of the Arkansas River, which permits the Arkansas River as a sediment source. Ca and Sr abundances, which reflect small amounts of carbonate minerals, are higher in Arkansas River sand compared to eolian sands and show a systematic depletion away from the Arkansas River to the southeast. These trends are likely due to carbonate mineral depletion downwind from abrasion and size reduction. Thus, paleowinds probably were northwesterly during initial deposition. Northwesterly winds occur today when dry, Pacific-derived air is dominant. We hypothesize that the residence time of this air mass was much greater while dunes initially formed, possibly during a warmer and drier mid-Holocene period.