Skip to main content

Episodic Late Holocene dune movements on the sand-sheet area, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, San Luis Valley, Colorado, USA

  • S.L. Forman (a1), M. Spaeth (a1), L. Marín (a1), J. Pierson (a1), J. Gómez (a1), F. Bunch (a2) and A. Valdez (a2)...

The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve (GSDNPP) in the San Luis Valley, Colorado, contains a variety of eolian landforms that reflect Holocene drought variability. The most spectacular is a dune mass banked against the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, which is fronted by an extensive sand sheet with stabilized parabolic dunes. Stratigraphic exposures of parabolic dunes and associated luminescence dating of quartz grains by single-aliquot regeneration (SAR) protocols indicate eolian deposition of unknown magnitude occurred ca. 1290–940, 715 ± 80, 320 ± 30, and 200–120 yr ago and in the 20th century. There are 11 drought intervals inferred from the tree-ring record in the past 1300 yr at GSDNPP potentially associated with dune movement, though only five eolian depositional events are currently recognized in the stratigraphic record. There is evidence for eolian transport associated with dune movement in the 13th century, which may coincide with the “Great Drought”, a 26-yr-long dry interval identified in the tree ring record, and associated with migration of Anasazi people from the Four Corners areas to wetter areas in southern New Mexico. This nascent chronology indicates that the transport of eolian sand across San Luis Valley was episodic in the late Holocene with appreciable dune migration in the 8th, 10–13th, and 19th centuries, which ultimately nourished the dune mass against the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Corresponding author
Corresponding author. E-mail address: (S.L. Forman).
Hide All
Aitken, M.J. An Introduction to Optical Dating: The dating of Quaternary Sediments by the use of Photon-stimulated luminescence. (1998). Oxford Univ. Press, New York.
Alexander, B., (1979). Geology of Great Sand Dunes, a preliminary review of the literature.. Unpublished National Park Service Report, GSDNPP library, 58p.
Arbogast, A.F. Stratigraphic evidence for late-Holocene aeolian sand mobilization and soil formation in south-central Kansas, USA. Journal of Arid Environments 34, (1996). 403414.
Bailey, S.D., Wintle, A.G., Duller, G.A.T., and Bristow, C.S. Sand deposition during the last millennium at Aberffraw, Anglesey, North Wales as determined by OSL dating of quartz. Quaternary Science Reviews 20, (2001). 701704.
Ballarini, M., Wallinga, J., Murray, A., Oost, S., van Heteren, A.P., Bos, A.J.J., and van Eijk, C.W.E. Optical dating of young coastal dunes on a decadal time scale. Quaternary Science Reviews 22, (2003). 10111017.
Benedict, J.B. Effects of changing climate on game-animal and human use of the Colorado high country (U.S.A.) since 1000 BC. Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research 31, (1999). 115.
Bøtter-Jensen, L., Bulur, E., Duller, G.A.T., and Murray, A.S. Advances in luminescence instrument systems. Radiation Measurements 32, (2000). 523528.
Brady, N.C. The Nature and Properties of Soils. (1974). Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., New York.
Brady, R.G., (1989). Geology and Quaternary dune sands in eastern Major and southern Alfalfa counties, Oklahoma.. Unpublished PhD thesis, Oklahoma State University, .
Clarke, M.L., and Rendell, H.M. Late Holocene dune accretion and episodes of persistent drought in the great plains of Northeastern Colorado. Quaternary Science Reviews 22, (2003). 10511058.
Cook, E.R., Krusic, P.J., and Woodhouse, C.A., (2003). North American Drought Atlas. IPCC Workshop on Droughts, Nov. (2003). : 13., web page: http:/
Cook, E.R., Woodhouse, C.A., Eakin, C.M., Meko, D.M., and Stahle, D.W. Long-term aridity changes in the western United States. Science 306, (2004). 10151018.
Dean, W.E. Rates, timing, and cyclicity of Holocene eolian activity in north-central United States: evidence from varved lake sediments. Geology 25, (1997). 331334.
Dean, W. A 1500-year record of climatic and environmental change in Elk Lake, Clearwater County, Minnesota-II: geochemistry, mineralogy, and stable isotopes. Journal of Paleolimnology 27, (2002). 301319.
deMenocal, P. Cultural responses to climate change in the Holocene. Science 292, (2001). 667673.
Dettinger, M.D., Cayan, D.R., Diaz, H.F., and Meko, D.M. North-south precipitation patterns in western North America on interannual-to-decadal timescales. Journal of Climate 11, (1998). 30953111.
Fain, J., Soumana, S., Montret, M., Miallier, D., Pilleyre, T., and Sanzelle, S. Luminescence and ESR dating-Beta-dose attenuation for various grain shapes calculated by a Monte-Carlo method. Quaternary Science Reviews 18, (1999). 231234.
Fish, S.K., and Fish, P.R. Prehistoric desert farmers of the Southwest. Annual Review of Anthropology 23, (1994). 83108.
Force, E.R. Late Holocene behavior of Chaco and McElmo canyon drainages (southwest US): a comparison based on archaeologic age controls. Geoarchaeology—An International Journal 19, (2004). 583609.
Forman, S.L., and Pierson, J. Formation of linear and parabolic dunes on the eastern Snake River Plain. Idaho in the nineteenth century. Geomorphology 56, (2003). 189200.
Forman, S.L., Goetz, A.F.H., and Yuhas, R.H. Large scale stabilized dunes on the High Plains of Colorado: understanding the landscape response to Holocene climates with the aid of images from space. Geology 20, (1992). 145148.
Forman, S.L., Oglesby, R., Markgraf, V., and Stafford, T. Paleoclimatic significance of late Quaternary eolian deposition on the Piedmont and High Plains, central United States. Global and Planetary Change 11, (1995). 3555.
Forman, S.L., Oglesby, R., and Webb, R.S. Temporal and spatial patterns of Holocene dune activity on the Great Plains of North America: megadroughts and climate links. Global and Planetary Change 29, (2001). 129.
Forman, S.L., Marín, L., Pierson, J., Gómez, J., Miller, G.H., and Webb, R.S. Eolian sand depositional records from western Nebraska: landscape response to droughts in the past 1500 years. Holocene (2005). 973981.
Fritz, S.C., Itzo, E., Yu, Z.C., Laird, K.R., and Engstrom, D.R. Hydrologic variation in the northern Great Plains during the last two millennia. Quaternary Research 53, (2000). 175184.
Fryberger, S.G. Overview of the eolian depositional system, Great Sand Dunes National Monument and vicinity. Schenk, C.J. Hydrologic, Geologic and Biologic Research at Great Sand Dunes National Monument, Colorado. Proceedings of National Park Service Research Symposium vol. 1, (1999). National Park Service, Denver, CO. 195214.
Fye, F.K., Stahle, D.W., and Cook, E.R. Paleoclimatic analogs to twentieth-century moisture regimes across the United States. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 84, (2003). 901915.
Gaylord, D.R. Holocene paleoclimatic fluctuations revealed from dune and interdune strata in Wyoming. Journal of Arid Environments 18, (1989). 123138.
Goble, R.J., Mason, J.A., Loope, D.B., Swinehart, J.B., and Loope, D.B. Optical and radiocarbon ages of stacked paleosols and dune sands in the Nebraska Sand Hills, USA. Quaternary Science Reviews 23, (2004). 11731182.
Graumlich, L.J. A 1000-year record of temperature and precipitation in the Sierra-Nevada. Quaternary Research 39, (1993). 249255.
Grissino-Mayer, H.D., and Swetnam, T.W. Century-scale climate forcing of fire regimes in the American Southwest. Holocene 10, (2000). 213220.
Grissino-Mayer, H.D., Baisan, C.H., and Swetnam, T.W., (1998). A multicentury reconstruction of precipitation for Great Sand Dunes National Monument, southwestern Colorado. Report to Mid-continental Ecological Science Center, U.S. Dept. of the Interior, National Park Service, Great Sand Dunes National Monument, .
Hall, S.A. Channel trenching and climatic change in the southern U.S. Great Plains. Geology 18, (1990). 342345.
Jain, M., Bøtter-Jensen, L., and Singhvi, A.K. Dose evaluation using multiple aliquot quartz OSL: test of methods and a new protocol for improved accuracy and precision. Radiation Measurements 37, (2003). 6780.
Janke, J.R. An analysis of the current stability of the Dune Field at Great San Dunes National Monument using temporal TM imagery (1984–1998). Remote Sensing of Environment 83, (2002). 488497.
Johnson, R.B. The Great Sand Dunes of Southern Colorado. U.S. Geological Survey, Professional Paper 575 C, (1967). C177C183.
Lancaster, N., and Tchakerian, V.P. Late Quaternary eolian dynamics, Mojave Desert, California. Enzel, Y., Wells, S.G., and Lancaster, N. Paleoenvironments and Paleohydrology of the Mojave and southern Great Basin Deserts. (2003). The Geological Society of America, Boulder, CO. 231249.
Larson, D.O., and Michaelsen, J. Impacts of climatic variability and population-growth on virgin branch Anasazi cultural developments. American Antiquity 55, (1990). 227249.
Larson, D.O., Neff, H., Graybill, D.A., Michaelsen, J., and Ambos, E. Risk, climatic variability, and the study of southwestern prehistory: an evolutionary perspective. American Antiquity 61, (1996). 217241.
Lekson, S.H. Casas Grandes and its hinterland: prehistoric regional organization in northwest Mexico. Journal of Field Archaeology 28, (2001). 216222.
Lekson, S.H. Anasazi America: seventeen centuries on the road from center place. American Antiquity 67, (2002). 172173.
Madole, R.F. Stratigraphic evidence of desertification in the west-central Great Plains within the past 1000 yr. Geology 22, (1994). 483486.
Madole, R.F. Spatial and temporal patterns of Late Quaternay eolian deposition, Eastern Colorado, U.S.A.. Quaternary Science Reviews 14, (1995). 155178.
Madsen, D.B. Exploring the Fremont. (1989). Utah Museum of Natural History, Salt Lake City, UT.
Marín, L., Forman, S.L., Valdez, A., and Bunch, F. 20th Century dune migration at the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado and relation to drought variability. Geomorphology 70, (2005). 163183.
Mason, J.A., Swinehart, J.B., Globe, R.J., and Loope, D.B. Late-Holocene dune activity linked to hydrological drought, Nebraska Sand Hills, USA. The Holocene 14, (2004). 209217.
Mejdahl, V., and Christiansen, H.H. Procedures used for luminescence dating of sediments. Boreas 13, (1994). 403406.
Meko, D., and Graybill, D.A. Tree-ring reconstruction of Upper Gila River discharge. Water Resources Bulletin 31, (1995). 605616.
Meko, D.M., Therrell, M.D., Baisan, C.H., and Hughes, M.K. Sacramento River flow reconstructed to AD 869 from tree rings. Journal of the American Water Resources Association 37, (2001). 10291039.
Morrison, R.B. Quaternary Nonglacial Geology: Conterminous US. (1991). Geological Society of America, Boulder, CO. 672
Muhs, D.R., and Holliday, V.T. Evidence of active dune sand on the Great-Plains in the 19th-Century from accounts of early explorers. Quaternary Research 43, (1995). 198208.
Muhs, D.R., Stafford, T.W., Cowherd, S.D., Mahan, S.A., Kihl, R., Maat, P.B., Bush, C.A., and Nehring, J. Origin of the late Quaternary dune fields of northeastern Colorado. Geomorphology 17, (1996). 129149.
Muhs, D.R., Stafford, T.W., Been, J., Mahan, S.A., Burdett, J., Skipp, G., and Rowland, Z.M. Holocene eolian activity in the Minot dune field, North Dakota. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 34, (1997). 14421459.
Murray, A., and Olley, J.M. Precision and accuracy in the optically stimulated luminescence dating of sedimentary quartz: a status review. Geochronometria 21, (2002). 116.
Murray, A.S., and Wintle, A.G. Quartz OSL: effects of thermal treatment and their relevance to laboratory dating procedures. Radiation Measurements 32, (2000). 387400.
Murray, A.S., and Wintle, A.G. The single aliquot regenerative dose protocol: potential for improvements in reliability. Radiation Measurements 37, (2003). 377381.
National Climatic Data Center, (1950). –(2002).
Nelson, M.C., and Schachner, G. Understanding abandonments in the North American Southwest. Journal of Archaeological Research 10, (2002). 167206.
Petersen, K.L. A warm and wet little climatic optimum and a cold and dry little ice-age in the Southern Rocky-Mountains, USA. Climatic Change 26, (1994). 243269.
Prescott, J.R., and Hutton, J.T. Cosmic ray contributions to dose rates for luminescence and ESR dating: large depths and long-term time variations. Radiation Measurements 23, (1994). 497500.
Richardson, C.A. Effects of bleaching on the sensitivity to dose of the infrared-stimulated luminescence of potassium-rich feldspars from Ynyslas, Wales. Radiation Measurements 23, (1994). 587591.
Singhvi, A.K., Sharma, Y.P., and Agrawal, D.P. Thermoluminescence dating of dune sands in Rajasthan, India. Nature 295, (1982). 313315.
Stahle, D.W., Cook, E.R., Cleaveland, M.K., Therrell, M.D., Meko, D.M., Grissino-Mayer, H.D., Watson, E., and Luckman, B.H. Tree-ring data document 16th Century Megadrought over North America. EOS 81, (2000). 121125.
Stokes, S., and Gaylord, D.R. Optical dating of Holocene Dune Sands in the Ferris Dune Field, Wyoming. Quaternary Research 39, (1993). 274281.
Stokes, S., and Swinehart, J.B. Middle- and late-Holocene dune reactivation in the Nebraska Sand Hills, USA. The Holocene 7, (1997). 263272.
Stokes, S., Bailey, R.M., Fedoroff, N., and O'Marah, K.E. Optical dating of aeolian dynamism on the West African Sahelian margin. Geomorphology 59, (2004). 281291.
Wedel, W.R. Central Plains Prehistory. (1986). Univ. of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE.
Wells, S.G., McFadden, L.D., and Schulz, J.D. Eolian landscape evolution and soil formation in the Chaco Dune field, southern Colorado Plateau, New Mexico. Geomorphology 3, (1990). 517546.
Wiegland, J.P., (1977). Dune Morphology and Sedimentology at Great Sand Dunes National Monument. M.S., Thesis, Colorado State University, Fort Collins.
Wolfe, S.A., Huntley, D.J., David, P.P., Ollerhead, J., Sauchyn, D.J., and MacDonald, G.M. Late 18th century drought-induced sand dune activity, Great Sand Hills, Saskatchewan. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 38, (2001). 105117.
Wolfe, S.A., Ollerhead, J., and Lian, O.B. Holocene eolian activity in south-central Saskatchewan and the southern Canadian Prairies. Geographie Physique et Quaternaire 56, (2002). 215227.
Woodhouse, C.A., and Meko, D. Number of winter precipitation days reconstructed from Southwestern tree rings. Journal of Climate 10, (1997). 26632669.
Woodhouse, C.A., and Overpeck, J.T. 2000 years of drought variability in the central United States. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 79, (1998). 26712693.
Woodhouse, C.A., Lukas, J.J., and Brown, P.M. Drought in the western Great Plains, 1845–56—Impacts and implications. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 83, (2002). 14851493.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Quaternary Research
  • ISSN: 0033-5894
  • EISSN: 1096-0287
  • URL: /core/journals/quaternary-research
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed