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Ecoregions of
North Dakota
South Dakota

44. Nebraska Sand Hills

44a. Nebraska Sand Hills Level IV Ecoregion


North Dakota Ecoregions

South Dakota Ecoregions

44a. Nebraska Sand Hills

  The Nebraska Sand Hills ecoregion is the largest grass-stabilized dune region in the Western Hemisphere. This "sand sea" formed in the last 8,000 years, following the Pleistocene glaciations. The region is largely treeless and lacks tilled agriculture. Precipitation passes through the porous sands to continually recharge ground water, resulting in interdune areas of wetlands, lakes, and streams with a relatively constant annual discharge. The Sand Hills are an important recharge area for the Ogallala aquifer.

JPG - Aerial view of sandhills
Photo by Jim Swinehart, University of Nebraska

The profile of wavelike dunes on the horizon and a broad expanse of sky characterize this northern outpost of the Nebraska Sand Hills. Cattle ranching is the predominant land use in the region. The prairie grass associations are specific to the sandy environment, but the fragile vegetative cover is susceptible to blowouts, prompting ranchers to employ rotational grazing strategies to maintain it.


Area (square miles): 488

Elevation/Local Relief (feet): 2900-3500/120-300

Sand sheets and extensive fields of barchanoid, parabolic, and domal sand dunes. High water table, interdune wetlands.


Surficial Material and Bedrock
Eolian sand over Miocene soft sandstone.


Order (Great Groups)
Entisols (Ustipsamments)

Common Soil Series

Temperature/Moisture Regimes


Precipitation - Mean annual (inches)

Frost Free - Mean annual (days)

Mean Temp. - Jan. min/max; July min/max, (°F)

Potential Natural Vegetation

Sand associated grasses: Sand bluestem, little bluestem, prairie sandreed. Big bluestem and switchgrass in wetter interdune areas.

Land Use and Land Cover

Cattle ranching, some hayland. Grassland cover.

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