James Swinehart

James Swinehart

  • Contact Information
  • My Story
  • Publications
  • Background

Contact Information

TitleEmeritus Research Geologist
Faculty RankProfessor Emeritus
Address Off Campus
818 Atlanta Avenue
Webster Groves MO
  • office: 314-968-6340


My Story

When Jim Swinehart moved to Nebraska, the California native didn't plan on staying for long. Forty years later, in 2010, Swinehart achieved professor emeritus status, having concluded a successful career as a research geologist and professor in the geology and soils faculty, in the School of Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Swinehart was also a faculty member of the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences from 1995 to 2008.

Swinehart's career has focused on stratigraphy, the study of how rock and sediment layers (strata) are arranged in time and space; and sedimentology, which examines the origin, structure and history of sediments and sedimentary rocks. His research focused on the evolution of the landscape and Cenozoic stratigraphy of Nebraska and the Great Plains, and the geologic history of the dunes, lakes and wetlands of the Nebraska Sand Hills and north-central China.

In the early 90s, Swinehart began focusing on the dune fields of western Nebraska. He worked with a team of researchers to examine the biocomplexity of the Nebraska Sand Hills. He also worked with colleagues in UNL's Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences to look at the history of dune reactivation during the past 20,000 years, and on mechanisms that control lake-aquifer salinization at both the local and regional or watershed scales in the Sand Hills. Both projects funded by the National Science Foundation.

Swinehart was also involved in geologic mapping and test drilling in western Nebraska. At the end of a long career, he says he feels fortunate to have collaborated with colleagues like Jim Goeke, Bob Diffendal, Joe Mason, Vern Souders, Hal DeGraw, David Loope, Ron Goble, Mike Voorhies and a host of students.

"It was one of those things where you learn on the job and the next thing you know you're an expert," he said.

Swinehart recalls fondly what he called "the drudgery of field and lab work" - using tweezers to pick out tiny seeds for radiocarbon dating, long days drilling test holes in "the boonies of Nebraska," and working outdoors in all weather conditions. Sharing his work with students in the field was a career highlight, he said.

"Field work always had unexpected turns, whether it was being chased out of a pasture by angry bulls or those few, unpredictable 'aha!' moments - leaps of understanding - when your brain makes connections that allow you to see the solution to a big puzzle you've been agonizing over for a long time."

Somewhere in the midst of all the traveling and field work, the state really started to grow on him. "I realized that if you just drove the interstate across Nebraska there'd be a reason you'd keep going, but between the Niobrara River, the Sand Hills, the Pine Ridge, there turned out to be some really nifty geologic phenomena," he said.

The success of the Sand Hills research led to four years of fieldwork in the dune fields of Inner Mongolia of northern China. Working with Ron Goble, UNL Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences; Joe Mason, University of Wisconsin-Madison; and Lu Huayu, Nanjing University; the research looked at dune activity and associated hydrologic change and dust production over the last 20,000 years.

One of the issues examined in both the Sand Hills and China was how the landscapes might change with extended drought brought on by climate change, a topic he started to devote considerable attention to in his environmental geology classes.

"Climate change went from one lecture to two, to two weeks - at which point it was clouding all the other things we had to talk about," he recalled. So when Don Wilhite, then director of the School of Natural Resources, proposed a class on it for undergraduates, Swinehart jumped at the opportunity. With Ken Dewey, he created "Climate in Crisis," which he and Ken co-taught for two years with help from Martha Shulski of the High Plains Regional Climate Center.

Swinehart said he plans to keep talking to the public about climate change as a guest lecturer at schools and universities. He also plans on doing a fair amount of traveling, exploring the geology of the Southwest, visiting children and a grandchild in Colorado, and kicking off retirement with a kayak tour along the coast of British Columbia.

Selected Publications

Powell, L.A., A.J. Tyre, S.E. Hygnstrom, D.A. Wedin, P.R. Hanson, M.S. Kuzila, and J.B. Swinehart. 2009. Wilderness serendipity: planning and assessing learning during an experiential field course.North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture JournaOnline
Mason, J.,Swinehart, J.,Hyhua, L., Miao, X., 2008. Limited change in dune mobility in response to a large decrease in wind power in semi-arid northern China since the 1970s. Geomorphology.102: 351-363.Online
Fielding, C.R., LaGarry, H. E., LaGarry, L. A., Bailey, B. E., and Swinehart, J. B., 2007. Sedimentology of the Whiteclay Gravel Beds (Ogallala Group) in northwestern Nebraska, USA: Structurally controlled drainage promoted by Early Miocene uplift of the Online
Harvey, F.E., J.B. Swinehart and T.M. Kurtz, 2007, Ground Water Sustenance of Unique Ecosystems: Nebraska’s Sand Hills Peatland Fens, Ground Water. 45(2), p. 218-234.
Miao, X., Mason, J.A., Swinehart, J.B., Loope, D.B., Hanson, P.R., Goble, R.J., Liu, X., 2007. A 10,000-year record of dune activity, dust storms, and drought in the central Great Plains. Geology 35:119-122.Online
Zlotnik, V.A., Burbach, M.E., Swinehart, J.B., Bennett, D., Fritz, S.C., Loope, D.B., and Olaguera, F. 2007. Direct push methods for aquifer characterization in dune-lake environments: The Nebraska Sand Hills. Environmental and Engineering Geosciences. 13
Sridhar, V., D.B. Loope, J.B. Swinehart, J.A. Mason, R.J. Oglesby, and C.M. Rowe (2006) Large wind shift on the Great Plains during the Medieval Warm Period, Science, 313, 345-347.Online
Lu, H.,X. Miao, Y.Zhou, J. Mason, J. Swinehart, J. Zhang, L. Zhou, S. Yi , 2005, Late Quaternary aeolian activity in the Mu Us and Otindag dune fields (north China) and lagged response to isolation forcing. American Geophysical Union, v 32, p. 716-720.Online
Nicholson, B.J. and Swinehart, J.B., 2005, Evidence of Holocene climate change in a Nebraska Sandhills wetland. Great Plains Research, v. 15, pp. 45-67.Online
Goble, R. J., J. A. Mason, D. B. Loope, and J. B. Swinehart. 2004. Optically stimulated luminescence and radiocarbon ages of stacked paleosols and dune sands in the Nebraska Sand Hills, USA. Quaternary Science Reviews 23:1173-1182.Online
Goble, R.J., J.A. Mason, D.B. Loope, and J.B. Swinehart. 2004. Optical and radiocarbon ages of stacked paleosols and dune sands in the Nebraska Sand Hills, USA. 23(9-10).
Mason, J. A., J. B. Swinehart, R. J. Goble, and D. B. Loope. 2004. Late Holocene dune activity linked to hydrological drought, Nebraska Sand Hills, USA. The Holocene 14: 209-217.Online
Souders, V.L., Swinehart, J.B., Smith, F.A. 2002. Morrill County Test Hole Logs. Conservation and Survey Division, University of Nebraska. pp. 135.Online
loope, D., Swinehart, J. 2000. Thinking like a dune field: geologic history in the Nebraska Sand Hills. Great Plains Research. 10:5-35.Online
Muhs, D., Swinehart, J., Loope, D., Been, J., Mahan, S., Bush, C. 2000. Geochemical evidence for an eolian sand dam across the North and South Platte rivers in Nebraska. Quaternary Research. 53:214-222.Online
Smith, F. A., Swinehart, J. B., Goeke, J. W., 2000. Garden County Test Hole Logs. Conservation and Survey Division, University of Nebraska. pp. 109.Online
Muhs, D, Swinehart, J., Loope, D., Aleinikoff, J. Been, J. 1990. 200,000 years of climate change recorded in eolian sediments of the High Plains of eastern Colorado and western Nebraska. Geological Society of America. .:71-95.Online
Swinehart, J.B. 1998. [Sand Hills] Geology, Wind-blown Deposits. An Atlas of the Sand Hills: 14 pp.
Swinehart, J.B. and R.F. Diffendal Jr. 1998. [Sand Hills] Geology, Geology of the Pre-dune Strata. An Atlas of the Sand Hills: 14 pp.
Hassan, K., J. Swinehart, and R. Spalding 1997. Evidence for Holocene environmental change from C/N ratios and delta C-13 and delta N-15 values in Swan Lake sediments, western Sand Hills, Nebraska. Journal of Paleolimnology. 18:121-130.
Mason, J., J. Swinehart, and D. Loope 1997. Holocene history of lacustrine and marsh sediments in a dune-blocked drainage, Southwestern Nebraska Sand Hills, U.S.A.. Journal of Paleolimnology. 17:67-83.Online
Muhs, D. R., Stafford, T. W., Jr., Swinehart, J. B., Cowherd, S. D., Mahan, S. A., Bush, C. A., Madole, R. F., Maat, P. B., 1997. Late Holocene Eolian Activity in the Mineralogically Mature Nebraska Sand Hills. Quaternary Research 48(0):15.Online
Muhs, D., T. Stafford, Jr., J. Swinehart, S. Cowherd, S. Mahan, C. Bush, R. Madole, and P. Maat 1997. Late Holocene eolian activity in the mineralogically mature Nebraska Sand Hills. Quaternary Research. 48:162-176.Online
Muhs, D.R., T.W. Stafford Jr., J.B. Swinehart, S.D. Cowhed, S.A. Mahan, C.A. Bush, R.F. Madole, and P.B Maat. 1997. Late Holocene Eolian Activity in the Mineralogically Mature Nebraska Sand Hills. Quaternary Research 48:162-176.Online
Stokes, S. and J. Swinehart 1997. Middle and late Holocene dune reactivation in the Nebraska Sand Hills. The Holocene. 7:263-273.
Loope, D.B., J.B. Swinehart, and J.P. Mason. 1995. Dune-dammed Paleovalleys of the Nebraska Sand Hills: Intrinsic Versus Climatic Controls on the Accumulation of Lake and Marsh Sediments. Geological Society of America Bulletin 197(4):396-406.Online
Swinehart, J.B., Goeke, J.W., Winter, T.C. 1988. Field Guide to Geology and Hydrology of the Nebraska Sand Hills. Geological Society of America Field Trip Guidebook Professional Contributions, Colorado School of Mines 0(12): 0 pp.
Swinehart, J.B. and R.F. Diffendal. 1987. Duer Ranch, Morrill County, Nebraska: Contrast between Cenozoic fluvial and eolian deposition. Geological Socciety of American Cenntenial Field Guide-North-Central Section:23-28.Online
Diffendal, R. F., Jr., J.B. Swinehart, J.J. Gottula 1985 (RS-48). Characteristics, Age Relationships, and Regional Importance of Some Cenozoic Paleovalleys, Southern Nebraska Panhandle. Ter-Qua Symposium Series, Institute of Tertirary-Quaternary StudiesOnline
Swinehart, J.B., V.L. Souders, H.M. DeGraw, R.F. Diffendal. 1985. Cenozoic Paleogeography of Western Nebraska. Cenozoic Paleogeography of West-Central United States, Proceedings of the Rocky Mountain Paleogeography Symposium 3, Rocky Mountain Section, So
Tedford, R.H., Swinehart, J.B., Hunt, R.M., Jr., Voorhies, M.R. 1985. Uppermost White River and Lowermost Arikaree Rocks and Faunas, White River Valley, Northwestern Nebraska, and Their Correlation with South Dakota. Fossiliferous Cenozoic Deposits of Wes
Ahlbrandt, T. S., Swinehart, J. B., Maroney, D. G., 1983 (RS-41). The Dynamic Holocene Dune Fields of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain Basins, U.S.A.. Eolian Sediments and Processes, Elsevier Science Publishers, The Netherlands 0(0): 26 pp.
Pabian, R.K. Swinehart, J.B. 1980. Geology Along the Republican River Valley Near Red Cloud, Nebraska. Lincoln: Conservation and Survey Division, University of Nebraska. pp. 25.Online
Burchett, R.R., Swinehart, J.B. 1977. Many Uses Found for Geologic Maps. Farm, Ranch and Home (IANR) Quarterly 0(1977):2.
Pabian, R. K., Swinehart, J. B. 1977. Greeley County, Chalk Mine State Wayside Area. Lincoln: Conservation and Survey Division, University of Nebraska. pp. 13.Online



DegreeMajorInstitutionYear Awarded
Master of ScienceGeologyUniversity of Nebraska-Lincoln1979
Bachelor of ScienceGeologyUniversity of California-Riverside1964


SNR Program Areas

  • Environmental Science