Nebraska ranks 16th among the states in area, covering 200,346 sq km (77,354 sq mi), including 1,246 sq km (481 sq mi) of inland waters. From east to west, in a line extending from Omaha to the western boundary of its Panhandle, Nebraska measures 687 km (426 mi). The distance from north to south is 333 km (207 mi). With the exception of the Panhandle to the west, the state is rectangular. It slopes gently to the southeast and elevation increases at an average rate of 2 meters per kilometer (10 feet per mile) from the Missouri River to Nebraska’s western boundary. The lowest elevation, 256 m (840 ft), is along the Missouri River in the southeast, and the highest point, 1,653 m (5,424 ft), is in the Panhandle in southwestern Kimball County. The mean elevation is about 790 m (2,600 ft). Although Nebraska is considered a plains state, there is considerable local relief.
Two major physiographic divisions, or natural regions, of the United States are represented in Nebraska. They are the Central Lowland and the Great Plains, both of which are subdivisions of the Interior Plains. The eastern fifth of Nebraska is in the Central Lowland, and the remainder of the state forms part of the Great Plains. The Dissected Till Plains of the Central Lowland, which average about 110 to 130 km (about 70 to 80 mi) in width, parallel the Missouri River. This area was blanketed by ice during the early ice ages several hundred thousand years ago. Later it was covered by various thicknesses of loess, or wind-deposited material, and roughened by erosion. The hills of loess-covered glacial deposits are severely dissected, or eroded, by rivers enlarging their valleys near the Missouri River. This dissection has created bluffs that are visible along much of the river.
The Great Plains natural region covers about four-fifths of the state. This region is composed of four distinct areas: the High Plains, the Sand Hills, the Loess Hills and Canyons, and the Loess Plains.
The High Plains in western Nebraska consist of a large expanse of high flat tableland with some rough broken areas. In many areas the soil and mantle are thin and the bedrock is exposed. A rather prominent feature of the landscape in this region is the Pine Ridge Escarpment, a cliff of 300 m (1,000 ft) in elevation. The Sand Hills in central and north central Nebraska consist of grass-covered sand dunes. This region makes up about one-quarter of the state. The sand dunes have been completely grassed over, except for occasional blowouts, which are areas of exposed sand that may cover more than a hectare. Throughout the region there is little variation in composition or in texture of the soil. The Sand Hills are extremely porous, and there is little surface runoff. Most streams in the Sand Hills are fed by springs or artesian wells and have little seasonal fluctuation. The underlying rock strata hold large amounts of usable water, and wells may be dug successfully anywhere within the Sand Hills.
The central and southwestern parts of the Great Plains in Nebraska are made up of loess hills and canyons. Most of south central Nebraska is composed of a slightly dissected loess plain. Most of the southeastern half of the state is capped by loess, ranging in depth from about 1 to more than 90 m (about 3 to more than 300 ft). The thickest deposits are found in central Nebraska, from 60 to 160 km (40 to 100 mi) north of the Kansas border. The loess is windblown unstratified material that often stands nearly vertical in cliffs or road cuts. Soils develop rapidly on loess and are among the most productive in the world. Encarta "Nebraska" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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