Formation of the Nebraska Sand Hills

by John W. Zupancic

December 6, 2001

Prepared in partial fulfillment of requirements for the course in 

  Remote Sensing, ES 771       at Emporia State University


   I first visited the Nebraska Sand Hills in the spring of 1980 with my advisor, Prof. Olson, from the University of Nebraska. We traveled 250 miles west from Lincoln to North Platte.  We picked up another of my graduate advisors and traveled another 40 miles north to the Sand Hills Ag Lab where  I was to spend much of that summer  researching crop fertilization through sprinklers.

   As we departed northward from North Platte,  not more than 15 miles into the journey, we entered  a whole new world.  It was very different from what I perceived to be  "Nebraska". The narrow road wound through expansive,  grass-covered dunes punctuated with occasional blowouts and small ponds.   There were very few signs of human habitation until we reached the town of  Tryon, where there was a dilapidated service station with a cafe,  three homes and a half-dozen junk vehicles.  We turned onto a sand road and drove for another 10 miles to the remote experiment station where I would spend many days and nights in the ensuing months.  During my time, there I began to ponder how these dunes had gotten there and why and when.

Map shows the size of the Nebraska Sand Hills, small yellow square is where the Sand Hills Ag Lab is located, after Nebraska Partners for Fish and Wildlife Home Page

   Since the summer of  1980, I have driven across the Sand Hills several  times and  realized how extensive was the  land mass they covered. I continued to wonder if there were any rhyme or reason to their formation. While driving one gets the perception that he can discern  patterns of deposition and the direction of ancient winds. Then he travels another 25  miles or so and his conclusions crumble. The patterns change and the quandary begins again.  

   I chose this project in hopes that I could better understand what great events formed this mystical landscape. High altitude aerial photography and satellite imagery should provide clues to the origin and deposition patterns of these massive, grass-covered dunes. They should provide a viewpoint and perspective far superior to that from ground level.  I invite you to follow along and share what I have learned.

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