Forman, S. L., R. Oglesby, R. S. Webb, 2001: Temporal and spatial patterns of Holocene dune activity on the Great Plains of North America: Megadroughts and climate links. Global and Planetary Change, 29, 1-29.


The Holocene record of eolian sand and loess deposition is reviewed for numerous presently stabilized dune fields on the Great Plains of North America. Dune field activity reflects decade-to-century-scale dominance of drought that exceeded historic conditions, with a growing season deficit of precipitation >25%. The largest dune fields, the Nebraska Sand Hills and ergs in eastern Colorado, Kansas and the Southern High Plains showed peak activity sometime between ca. 7 and 5 cal. ka. Loess deposition between ca. 10 and 4 cal. ka also signifies widespread aridity. Most dune fields exhibit evidence for one or more reactivation events sometime in the past 2 cal. ka; a number of localities register two events post 1 cal. ka, the latest potentially after 1400 AD. However, there is not a clear association of the latest dune remobilization events with up to 13 droughts in the past 2 cal. ka identified in dendroclimatic and lacustrine records. Periods of persistent drought are associated with a La Niña-dominated climate state, with cooling of sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean and later of the tropical Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico that significantly weakens cyclogenesis over central North America. As drought proceeds, reduced soil moisture and vegetation cover would lessen evaporative cooling and increase surface temperatures. These surface changes strengthen the eastward expansion of a high-pressure ridge aloft and shift the jet stream northward, further enhancing continent-wide drought. Uncertainty persists if dune fields will reactivate in the future at a scale similar to the Holocene because of widespread irrigation, the lack of migratory bison herds, and the suppression of prairie fires, all of which enhance stabilization of dune fields in the Great Plains.