Chariton River drainage basin landform origins, Iowa and Missouri, USA, overview essay

· Chariton River, Iowa, Missouri, Overview essays
Authors

A geomorphic history based on topographic map evidence

Abstract:

This essay provides an overview of information contained in more detailed essays found under Chariton River on the sidebar category list. The more detailed essays interpret landform origins based on Chariton River drainage basin topographic map evidence. The Chariton River originates in southern Iowa as an east oriented stream, but then turns to flow in a southeast and south direction into Missouri where it continues to flow in a south and south-southwest direction to join the Missouri River. West of the Chariton River are closely spaced south-oriented tributaries to the southeast and south-oriented Grand River. North of the Chariton River drainage basin in Iowa are northeast-oriented tributaries to the southeast-oriented Des Moines River, which flows to the Mississippi River. East of the Chariton River are closely spaced south-southeast and southeast oriented headwaters of other Mississippi River tributaries. The south-oriented Chariton River valley, its south-oriented tributary valleys, and adjacent south-oriented Missouri River tributary valleys are interpreted to have been eroded headward along channels in what was once an immense south-oriented anastomosing channel complex. Headward erosion of the deep Missouri River captured the south-oriented flood flow channels and deep south-oriented valleys then eroded headward from the newly eroded Missouri River north wall. Headward erosion of the deep Chariton River valley into northern Missouri captured a developing east and southeast-oriented anastomosing channel complex, which was feeding flood water to the actively eroding Mississippi River valley, which accounts for the east and southeast-oriented Chariton River headwaters. Evidence supporting this flood origin interpretation includes orientations of present day valleys, through valleys eroded across drainage divides, and barbed tributaries throughout the Chariton River drainage basin.

Chariton River drainage basin location map

Figure 1: Chariton River drainage basin location map (select and click on maps to enlarge). National Geographic Society map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

This overview essay summarizes key ideas expressed in a series of more detailed essay (listed under Chariton River on the sidebar category list) in which topographic map evidence is interpreted to determine landform origins in the Iowa and Missouri Chariton River drainage basin. Figure 1 provides a location map for the Chariton River drainage basin and shows a large region in northern Missouri with the state of Iowa being located north of Missouri. The Mississippi River flows in a south-southwest and south-southeast direction along the Iowa and Missouri eastern borders and the state of Illinois is located east of the Mississippi River. Along the south half of the figure 1 west edge the state of Kansas is located west of Missouri. St Louis, Missouri is located just out of sight in the figure 1 southeast corner. The Missouri River flows in a south direction along the Kansas-Missouri state line north of Kansas City and then turns to flow in an east-northeast direction to near Brunswick, Missouri. Near Brunswick the Missouri River turns to flow in a southeast, south, east, and southeast direction to the figure 1 south center edge and then turns again to flow in an east-northeast, east, east-southeast, and northeast direction to join the south-oriented Mississippi River just north of St Louis. The Chariton River originates south of Osceola, Iowa (near north edge, west half) and flows in an east and east-southeast direction to Rathbun Lake. From Rathbun Lake the Chariton River flows in a southeast direction to the state line and then in a south and south-southwest direction to join the southeast-oriented Missouri River segment downstream from Brunswick. Mussel Fork is a south-oriented tributary originating east of Green City in northern Missouri and joining the parallel Chariton River near Keytesville. West of the south-oriented Chariton River are south-oriented Grand River tributaries, including Locust Creek and Medicine Creek, which originate just south of the east-oriented Chariton River headwaters. These and other south-oriented Grand River tributaries, including the south-oriented Grand River headwaters, flow to a southeast-oriented Grand River segment, which north of Brunswick turns to flow in a south direction to join the Missouri River near Brunswick. East of the south-oriented Chariton River are two south and south-southwest oriented branches of the unnamed (on figure 1) Little Chariton River, which joins the Missouri River near Glasgow, Missouri. East of the Chariton River (north of the Little Chariton River headwaters) and east of the Little Chariton River are southeast and south-southeast oriented headwaters of Mississippi River tributaries including the Fabius River and the Salt River. North of the Chariton River drainage basin in Iowa are northeast-oriented tributaries to the southeast-oriented Des Moines River, which flows to the south-oriented Mississippi River.
  • The south-oriented Missouri River and Grand River tributaries and their south-oriented tributaries are interpreted to have formed as deep valleys eroded headward along channels in what had been an immense south-oriented anastomosing channel complex. Flood waters were derived from a rapidly melting thick North American ice sheet located north of the figure 1 map area. Prior to headward erosion of the deep Missouri River valley (and its tributary Osage River valley which is located south of figure 1) flood waters flowed south across what is now the Ozark Plateau directly to the Gulf of Mexico. Headward erosion of the deep Mississippi River valley and its tributary valleys then captured the south-oriented flood flow in sequence from south to north and west of the Mississippi River valley from east to west. Headward erosion of the deep Missouri River valley (and its tributary Osage River valley) beheaded south-oriented flood flow routes to what was then the newly eroded White River valley (south of figure 1). Flood waters on north ends of the beheaded flood flow routes reversed flow direction to erode north-oriented Missouri River (and Osage River) tributary valleys. These massive flood flow reversals proceeded from east to west and may have been aided by uplift of the Ozark Plateau region as flood waters were flowing across the region. The Chariton River valley was one of many south-oriented valleys that eroded headward along south-oriented flood flow channels captured by Missouri River valley headward erosion. At the same time as the deep Missouri River valley was eroding headward across the present day state of Missouri the Mississippi River valley was eroding headward and new southeast-oriented tributary valleys were eroding headward from it to capture the south-oriented flood flow. These actively eroding southeast-oriented Mississippi River tributary valleys beheaded south-oriented flood flow channels to what were then actively eroding south-oriented Missouri River tributary valleys (east of the Chariton River) and began to capture south-oriented flood flow north of the actively eroding Chariton River, Locust Creek, and Medicine Creek valleys. However, probably during an exceptionally large flood event, enough south-oriented flood flow spilled over in a south direction to the south-oriented Chariton River valley that the deep Chariton River valley was able to behead what was for all practical purposes a large southeast-oriented anastomosing channel complex draining to actively eroding Mississippi River tributary valleys. This capture event added the east and southeast-oriented Chariton River headwaters valley in southern Iowa to the Chariton River drainage basin. South and southeast-oriented flood flow to the actively eroding Chariton River drainage basin was beheaded by headward erosion of the southeast-oriented Des Moines River valley and its northeast-oriented tributary valleys.

Drainage routes at north end of Chariton River drainage basin in Iowa

Figure 2: Drainage routes at north end of Chariton River drainage basin in Iowa. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

 

Figure 2 illustrates drainage routes at and near the Chariton River drainage basin north end. The Iowa-Missouri state line is located near the figure 2 south edge and Iowa county names and boundaries are shown. Chariton Creek originates just north of Weldon (on Clarke-Decatur County line) and flows in an east-northeast, east, and northeast direction to near Chariton in Lucas County. At Chariton the Chariton River (note name change) turns to flow in a southeast direction to Rathbun Lake in northwest Appanoose County and then to the figure 2 south edge. Note how South White Breast Creek and White Breast Creek flow parallel to and just north of Chariton Creek in southeast Clarke County and western Lucas County before turning to flow in a north-northeast, northwest, and northeast direction to join the southeast oriented Des Moines River at Red Rock Lake in Marion County. Also note northwest-oriented Little White Breast Creek, which originates east of Chariton and which joins White Breast Creek in northern Lucas County. This evidence suggests headward erosion of the southeast oriented Chariton River valley captured east and northeast-oriented flood flow moving to what was then the actively eroding Des Moines River valley while at approximately the same time headward erosion of the northeast-oriented White Breast Creek valley beheaded and reversed southeast oriented flood flow moving to the what was then the actively eroding southeast-oriented Chariton River valley. In other words the actively eroding Chariton River valley, which eroded headward from the newly eroded Missouri River valley to the south, was competing with actively eroding Des Moines River tributary valleys to capture south and southeast-oriented flood flow in the figure 2 map area. South of the east-northeast oriented Chariton Creek headwaters in northeast Decatur County are south-oriented headwaters of the south-oriented Weldon River, which south of the figure 2 map area flows to the south-oriented Thompson River, which in turn flows to the southeast- and south-oriented Grand River, which then joins the Missouri River. East of the Weldon River headwaters in northern Wayne County is the north-, east-, and northeast-oriented South Fork Chariton River, which joins the Chariton River at Rathbun Lake in northwest Appanoose County. South of the north-oriented South Fork headwaters are south-oriented headwaters of Medicine Creek, which south of the figure 2 map area flows to the Grand River. Further east in Wayne County is north-oriented Jackson Creek, which flows to the east- and northeast-oriented South Fork Chariton River. South of the Jackson Creek headwaters are south-oriented headwaters of Locust Creek, which south of the figure 2 map area also flows to the Grand River. This evidence strongly suggests headward erosion of the South Fork Chariton River valley and the Chariton Creek valley beheaded and reversed south-oriented flood flow to what were then actively eroding south-oriented Grand River tributary valleys, with flood waters on north ends of beheaded flood flow routes reversing flow direction to erode north-oriented tributary valleys.

Drainage routes in middle Chariton River drainage basin, northern Missouri

Figure 3: Drainage routes in middle Chariton River drainage basin, northern Missouri. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

 

Figure 3 illustrates drainage routes in the middle Chariton River drainage basin south of the figure 2 map area. The west to east oriented Iowa-Missouri state line is located near the figure 3 north edge except in the figure 3 northeast corner where the Iowa-Missouri state line is located along the southeast-oriented Des Moines River, which flows to the south oriented Mississippi River. The Mississippi River is seen near the figure 3 east edge and Illinois is located east of it. Missouri county names and boundaries are shown. The Chariton River flows in a south direction along the Putnam-Schuyler County border and then across western Adair County and western Macon County to the figure 3 south edge. East of the Chariton River in eastern Schuyler and Adair Counties are southeast-oriented headwaters of Mississippi River tributaries. Note how in Chariton River tributaries from the west in eastern Putnam County and western Adair County are oriented in southeast directions suggesting headward erosion of the deep south oriented Chariton River valley captured multiple southeast-oriented flood flow channels, such as might be found in a large southeast-oriented anastomosing channel complex. Locust Creek is the south oriented stream in western Putnam County, western and central Sullivan County, and western Linn County and is joined by several south-oriented Locust Creek tributaries. South of the figure 3 map area Locust Creek flows to the south-oriented Grand River. East of Locust Creek in southeast Sullivan County and eastern Linn County are south-oriented headwaters of south- and southwest-oriented Yellow Creek tributaries, which south of the figure 3 map area converge to form southwest-oriented Yellow Creek, which then flows to the south-oriented Grand River. Originating near Green Castle in eastern Sullivan County and flowing in a south direction just east of the Linn-Macon County border is south-oriented Mussel Fork, which south of the figure 3 map area joins the south-oriented Chariton River. Between the Chariton River and north-south oriented highway 63 in Macon County are south-oriented tributaries of the Little Chariton River, which south of the figure 3 map area flows directly to the Missouri River. The closely spaced south-oriented drainage routes south and west of the southeast-oriented drainage routes appear to have originated as channels in what was once a south-oriented anastomosing channel complex. Headward erosion of the southeast-oriented anastomosing channel complex appears to have been capturing south-oriented flood flow routes to the south-oriented anastomosing channel complex until headward erosion of the deep south-oriented Chariton River valley captured the southwest end of the southeast-oriented anastomosing channel complex. The south-oriented anastomosing channel complex was supplying flood waters to the newly eroded Missouri River valley while the southeast-oriented anastomosing channel complex was moving flood waters more directly to the actively eroding Mississippi River valley.

Detailed topographic map showing barbed tributaries to Chariton River

Figure 4: Detailed topographic map showing barbed tributaries to Chariton River. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

 

Figure 4 provides a detailed topographic map of the Chariton River valley eastern margin just south of the Thousand Hills State Park (near Kirksville in Adair County) and shows north oriented barbed tributaries flowing to the south-oriented Chariton River. The Chariton River flows in a south direction near the figure 4 west edge. Note north and northwest oriented streams flowing to the figure 4 north edge and the west, northwest, and west-oriented tributary joining the Chariton River near the figure 4 northwest corner. The north-oriented streams, including north-oriented Gill Branch, flowing to the figure 4 north edge, converge in the Thousand Hills State Park area (north of figure 4) to form a west-oriented Chariton River tributary. The north-oriented Chariton River tributaries are barbed tributaries and flow in the opposite direction of the south-oriented Chariton River and provide evidence headward erosion of the deep south-oriented Chariton River valley beheaded diverging south-oriented flood flow channels with flood waters on north ends of beheaded flood flow routes reversing flow direction to erode north-oriented tributary valleys. A close look at drainage divides between north-oriented tributary headwaters valleys and south-oriented tributary valleys sometimes reveals shallow through valleys, usually defined by a single 20-foot contour line. The through valleys are not deep, which suggests the south-oriented flood flow was moving across a topographic surface at least as high as the present day drainage divides. At that time the deep south-oriented Chariton River valley did not exist and flood waters were flowing across the entire figure 4 map area on a high level topographic surface and were eroding shallow anastomosing channels into that topographic surface. Topographic map evidence alone is not adequate to determine whether the high level topographic surface was an erosion or a deposition surface, although in either case the surface was probably a flood created surface. It is possible flood erosion significantly lowered elevations in the figure 4 map area prior to development of the topographic surface now represented by the drainage divides. The deep south-oriented Chariton River valley eroded headward from what was then the deep Missouri River valley and eroded headward along what must have been one of the most successful of the south-oriented flood flow channels. By eroding a significantly deeper valley (than the adjacent flood flow channel valleys) the Chariton River valley was able to capture significant flood flow from the north, while also capturing flood flow from adjacent south-oriented flood flow channels.

Drainage routes in region where Chariton River joins the Missouri River

Figure 5: Drainage routes in region where Chariton River joins the Missouri River. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

 

Figure 5 illustrates drainage routes at the south end of the Chariton River drainage basin and is located south of the figure 3 map area. County names and boundaries are shown. The Missouri River meanders in an east-northeast direction from the figure 5 west edge (south half) between Carroll and Saline Counties and then in a southeast direction between Chariton and Saline Counties. Next the Missouri River flows in a south direction between Saline and Howard Counties before flowing in an east-southeast direction along the Howard County southern border. The Grand River flows in an east-southeast direction from the figure 5 northwest corner area to the Chariton County northwest corner and then forms the Carroll-Chariton County line as it flows in a south direction to join the Missouri River near Brunswick. Locust Creek is the south-oriented tributary joining the Grand River near the Chariton County northwest corner. South-oriented tributaries converge near Rothville in northwest Chariton County to form southwest-oriented Yellow Creek, which flows along the south border of Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge to join the Grand River. The Chariton River flows in a south direction to the Chariton County northeast corner and then flows in a south-southwest direction to join the Missouri River south of Keytesville in southern Chariton County. Between the south-oriented Yellow Creek tributaries and the Chariton River is south-oriented Mussel Fork, which joins the Chariton River near Keytesville. East of the Chariton River in Macon County are the south-oriented Middle and East Forks of the Little Chariton River and their tributaries, which both turn in northern Randoph County to flow in south-southwest directions to eventually converge to form the south-oriented Little Chariton River, which joins the Missouri River near the Chariton County southern tip. East of the south-oriented Little Chariton River tributaries in Macon County are south-oriented headwaters of the Middle Fork Salt River, which turns to flow in an east direction to join the east-oriented Salt River (east of figure 5), with the Salt River flowing to the south-oriented Mississippi River. Other east-oriented drainage routes in eastern Randolph County and in Monroe County also flows to the east-oriented Salt River and Mississippi River. South-oriented drainage in Boone County flows to the Missouri River. Headward erosion of the Salt River valley and its tributary valleys captured south-oriented flood flow moving to what were then actively eroding south-oriented Missouri River tributary valleys and diverted the flood water eastward to the south-oriented Mississippi River valley. North-oriented tributaries to the east-oriented Salt River tributaries flow in valleys eroded by reversals of flood flow on north ends of beheaded flood flow routes. Headward erosion of the Salt River tributary valleys was not able to proceed further west to capture south-oriented flood flow in the actively eroding south-oriented Little Chariton River tributary valleys.

Topographic map showing Chariton River-Little Chariton River drainage divide area

Figure 6: Topographic map showing Chariton River-Little Chariton River drainage divide area. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

 

Figure 6 illustrates an example of topographic map evidence demonstrating that headward erosion of southwest oriented Little Chariton River tributary valleys and of the south-southwest oriented Chariton River valley captured south and southeast oriented flood flow. Keytesville is the town near the north edge of the figure 6 northwest quadrant. Salisbury is the town located in the figure 6 northeast quadrant. The southeast oriented Missouri River valley is located in the figure 6 southwest quadrant and an east and south oriented Missouri River channel can be seen in the figure 6 southwest corner. The Chariton River flows in a south-southwest direction from the figure 6 north edge (west of center) to the figure 6 west center area and then turns to flow in a south direction to join the Missouri River in the figure 6 southwest corner. The Middle Fork Little Chariton River flows in a southwest direction from the figure 6 north edge (east of northeast corner) to the figure 6 south center area where it joins the southwest oriented East Fork Little Chariton River to form the south oriented Little Chariton River, which joins the Missouri River south of the figure 6 map area. Note how the East Fork Little Chariton River has northwest oriented (and barbed) tributaries. The northwest-oriented tributary valleys were eroded by reversals of flood flow on northwest ends of beheaded southeast oriented flood flow routes. The south-southwest oriented Chariton River valley segment also has north and northwest-oriented tributaries. In addition between the Chariton River and Salisbury is southwest and west oriented Puzzle Creek, which has north and northwest-oriented tributaries south and west of the Tank Farm. On the southeast side of the Chariton River-Little Chariton River drainage divide are south- and southeast oriented Little Chariton River tributaries. Note how shallow through valleys can be seen linking the northwest oriented Puzzle Creek tributary valley with southeast- and south (and east)-oriented Middle Fork Little Chariton River tributary valleys. Just to the west a shallow through valley links a north-northwest oriented Puzzle Creek tributary valley with a south and south-southeast oriented Little Chariton River tributary valley. The through valleys linking tributary valleys draining in opposite directions on either side of the drainage divide provide evidence of former south- and southeast-oriented flood flow channels, which were beheaded and reversed by headward erosion of the Puzzle Creek valley (and probably at about the same time by headward erosion of the Chariton River valley). Other through valleys can be seen on other drainage divides, although through valleys are best seen on more detailed topographic maps. This overview essay has only provided a sample of topographic map evidence illustrated and discussed in the more detailed Chariton River drainage basin landform origins essays. And those more detailed essays only provide a sample of much more detailed topographic map evidence that can be observed by studying large mosaics of topographic maps.

Introduction to Missouri River drainage basin research project essay series

  • This Chariton River drainage basin landform origins overview essay is one of a series of overview essays in the Missouri River drainage basin landform origins research project. The research project goal is to use topographic map evidence to describe the evolution of drainage divides separating each significant present day Missouri River tributary valley and also to describe the evolution of drainage divides separating the present day Missouri River drainage basin from adjacent drainage basins. Each overview essay relates to a specific Missouri River tributary, tributary to a present day Missouri River tributary, or a present day Missouri River valley segment and provides highlights of more detailed essays illustrating and discussing topographic map evidence describing the evolution of a secondary drainage divide area within the specified river or river segment drainage basin.
  • The Missouri River drainage basin research project introduces a new regional geomorphology paradigm. An essay titled “About the ‘thick ice sheet that melted fast’ geomorphology paradigm” provides a brief introduction to the new paradigm and how the new paradigm emerged. Detailed evidence illustrated and discussed in the Missouri River drainage basin research project essay series builds a strong case for (1) deep glacial erosion of the North American continent by a thick North American ice sheet that created and occupied a deep “hole”, (2) rapid melting of that thick North American ice sheet, (3) immense floods of south-oriented melt water, (4) headward erosion of deep east, northeast and north-oriented valley systems to capture the south-oriented melt water floods and to divert the melt water further and further northeast into space the ice sheet had once occupied, (5) deep flood water erosion of the North American continent surface, and (6) crustal warping that resulted in uplift of mountain ranges as flood waters were deeply eroding what are now high mountain regions. This interpretation is fundamentally different from most previous interpretations. The Chariton River drainage basin evidence in this overview essay and in the related more detailed essays is presented for review and discussion by qualified research geomorphologists and geologists.

Additional information and sources of maps studied

This essay has provided only a sample of the detailed topographic map evidence supporting the flood erosion interpretation. Many additional illustrations could be provided. Readers are encouraged to look at mosaics of detailed topographic maps to see the abundance of available data. Maps used in this study were created and published by the United States Geologic Survey and can be obtained directly from the United States Geological Survey and/or from dealers offering United States Geological Survey maps. Hard copy maps can also be observed at United States Geological Survey map depositories located throughout the United States and elsewhere. Illustrations used here were created using National Geographic Society TOPO software and digital map data. TOPO software and map data can be obtained from the National Geographic Society and/or dealers offering National Geographic Society digital map data.

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