Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Science 313, no. 5785 (July 21, 2006), pp. 345–347; doi: 10.1126/science.1128941 Copyright © 2006 American Association for the Advancement of Science. Used by permission.


Spring-summer winds from the south move moist air from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Plains. Rainfall in the growing season sustains prairie grasses that keep large dunes in the Nebraska Sand Hills immobile. Longitudinal dunes built during the Medieval Warm Period (800 to 1000 years before the present) record the last major period of sand mobility. These dunes are oriented NW-SE and are composed of cross-strata with bipolar dip directions. The trend and structure of the dunes record a drought that was initiated and sustained by a historically unprecedented shift of spring-summer atmospheric circulation over the Plains: Moist southerly flow was replaced by dry southwesterly flow.

Includes Supplementary Materials, Figures S1-S4.