Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in The Holocene 25:3 (2015), pp. 523–535; doi: 10.1177/0959683614561889


Copyright © 2014 Rebecca L. Schmeisser McKean, Ronald J. Goble, Joseph B. Mason, James B. Swinehart, and David B. Loope. Published by Sage Publications. Used by permission.


The Nebraska Sand Hills is a stabilized dune field on the Great Plains of North America. Although it is well known that this dune field, like several others on the Great Plains, last experienced widespread activity during the Medieval Climatic Anomaly (MCA, ~AD 900–1300), spatial variation in the timing and nature of drought development is poorly constrained. To elucidate spatial trends in dune reactivation, samples potentially representing MCA activity across the Sand Hills were collected and dated using optically stimulated luminescence (OSL). Ages from the older part of the MCA were obtained from eolian sediments in the northwestern Sand Hills, while ages from later in the episode were obtained to the southeast, suggesting a geographic trend in the timing of revegetation of the dunes near the end of the drought. Revegetation likely occurred to the northwest initially as a result of renewed moisture availability from a rising water table in the interdunes, which serve as refugia for vegetation during times of drought. Vegetation then gradually spread to the southeastern Sand Hills. An additional spatial trend in ages is apparent in the chronology of linear dune mobilization across the Sand Hills. Linear dunes in the northwest are superimposed on megadunes and originated during the last reactivation, while linear dunes in the southeast are built around older cores of dunes and formed during several reactivations. Our geochronology reveals three episodes of eolian transport, including the MCA, in the formation of linear dunes in the southeast.