Natural Resources, School of


Document Type


Date of this Version



Published in Aeolian Research 37 (2019), pp 14–24.

doi 10.1016/j.aeolia.2018.12.004


Copyright © 2018 Elsevier B.V. Used by permission.


Aeolian dune field chronologies provide important information on drought history on the Great Plains. The White River Badlands (WRB) dunes are located approximately 60 km north of the Nebraska Sand Hills (NSH), in the western section of the northern Great Plains. Clifftop dunes, sand sheets, and stabilized northwest-southeast trending parabolic dunes are found on upland mesas and buttes, locally called tables. The result of this study is a dune stabilization history determined from samples collected from stratigraphic exposures and dune crests. Thirty-seven OSL ages, from this and previous investigations, show three periods of dune activity: 1) ~21,000 years ago to 12,000 years ago (a), 2) ~9 to 6 ka, and 3) post-700 a. Stratigraphic exposures and low-relief dune forms preserve evidence of late Pleistocene and middle Holocene dune development, while high-relief dune crests preserve evidence of late Holocene dune development. Results of 12 OSL ages from the most recent dune activation event indicate that Medieval Climate Anomaly (MCA) droughts and Little Ice Age (LIA) droughts caused dune reactivation on the tables. Dune reactivation was accompanied by other drought-driven geomorphological responses in the WRB, including fluvial incision of the prairie and formation of sod tables. Regional significance of the MCA and LIA droughts is supported by similarities in the aeolian chronologies of the NSH at 700–600 a and some western Great Plains dune fields at 420–210 a. Aerial photographs of the WRB show little activity during the Dust Bowl droughts of the 1930s.