Natural Resources, School of


Date of this Version



Published in Quaternary Research, 48, 162-176 (1997).


The age of sand dunes in the Nebraska Sand Hills has been controversial, with some investigators suggesting a full glacial age and others suggesting that they were last active in the late Holocene. New accelerator mass spectrometry radiocarbon ages of unaltered bison bones and organic rich sediments suggest that eolian sand deposition occurred at least twice in the past 3000 I4C yr B.P. in three widely separated localities and as many as three times in the past 800 14C yr at three other localities. These late Holocene episodes of eolian activity are probably the result of droughts more intense than the 1930s "Dust Bowl" period, based on independent Great Plains climate records from lake sediments and tree rings. However, new geochemical data indicate that the Nebraska Sand Hills are mineralogically mature. Eolian sands in Nebraska have lower K feldspar (and K2O, Rb, and Ba) contents than most possible source sediments and lower K-feldspar contents than dunes of similar age in Colorado. The most likely explanation for mineralogical maturity is reduction of sand sized K feldspar to silt-sized particles via ballistic impacts due to strong winds over many cycles of eolian activity. Therefore, dunes of the Nebraska Sand Hills must have had a long history, probably extending over more than one glacial-interglacial cycle, and the potential for reactivation is high, with or without a future greenhouse warming.