Kansas River drainage basin landform origins, Kansas, USA, overview essay

· Kansas, Kansas River, Overview essays
Authors

A geomorphic history based on topographic map evidence

Abstract:

This essay provides highlights from more detailed essays describing drainage divide origins for Kansas River and tributary drainage divide areas. The more detailed essays can be under Kansas River on this website’s sidebar category list. All interpretations are based on topographic map evidence, which is illustrated in the more detailed essays. The Kansas River is formed at the Smoky Hill River and Republican River confluence near Junction City, Kansas and flows in an east direction to join the Missouri River at Kansas City, Missouri. The Smoky Hill and Republican Rivers originate in eastern Colorado, with the Smoky Hill River flowing in an east direction across Kansas and the South Fork Republican River flowing in a northeast direction into southwest Nebraska. From southwest Nebraska the Republican River flows in an east direction before flowing in a southeast direction into Kansas. Between the Republican and Smoky Hill Rivers are the east oriented Solomon and Saline Rivers, both of which are Smoky Hill River tributaries. The Saline and Solomon Rivers originate in western Kansas slightly east of the Smoky Hill and South Fork Republican River headwaters area. The Big Blue River is a major east and south-southeast oriented Kansas River tributary draining a large region in south central Nebraska. Big Blue River headwaters are located adjacent to a northeast-oriented Platte River valley segment. The northeast-oriented South Platte River is located west of the Republican River headwaters areas. The divergence and convergence of Republican, Solomon, Saline, and Saline River valleys (and the South Platte-Platte-Big Blue River valley) provides evidence for an immense east-oriented anastomosing channel complex. Overview essays and detailed essays for the Kansas River and its major tributaries describe how the east-oriented Kansas River valley and tributary valleys eroded headward in sequence, from south to north, to capture immense south-oriented floods and to divert flood waters east to what was then a newly eroded Missouri River valley. Flood waters were derived from a rapidly melting North American ice sheet and flowed south into what is today the Kansas River drainage basin. The divergence of valleys from the eastern Colorado-western Kansas headwaters region suggests for a period of time flood waters from that region were flowing east in all or most of the major east-oriented Kansas River tributary valleys simultaneously, although Republican River valley headward erosion eventually beheaded all southeast and south-oriented flood flow routes to the Solomon, Saline, and Smoky Hill River valleys and Platte River-South Platte River valley headward erosion beheaded all flood flow routes to the Kansas River drainage basin. Detailed essays illustrate topographic map evidence supporting this flood origin interpretation. Evidence includes positions and orientations of present day valleys and north-south oriented through valleys crossing present day drainage divides.

Kansas River drainage basin location map

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

Kansas River drainage basin history

This essay provides highlights from more detailed essays illustrating topographic map evidence  used to interpret Kansas River drainage basin landform origins. The detailed essays can be found under Kansas River on this website’s sidebar category list. Major Kansas River tributaries include the Big Blue River, Republican River, and Smoky Hill River, with the Solomon and Saline Rivers being major Smoky Hill River tributaries.  The Kansas River originates at the confluence of the Smoky Hill River and Republican River near Junction City, Kansas. From its origin the Kansas River flows in an east-northeast and east direction to join the Missouri River at Kansas City, Missouri. Several major Kansas River tributaries, including the Republican River and Smoky Hill River (and its Saline and Solomon River tributaries) originate in eastern Colorado and/or western Kansas and flow in headwaters streams drain a significant area in south central Nebraska before flowing in a south and south-southeast direction to join the Kansas River near Manhattan, Kansas. Compared to its major tributaries the Kansas River is relatively short. The Kansas River drainage basin however includes most of northern Kansas, significant areas in southern Nebraska and smaller areas in eastern and northeast Colorado. The Kansas River drainage basin is the southernmost of several east-oriented Missouri River tributary drainage basins and is bounded to the south by the Arkansas River drainage basin and to the north and west by the Platte River drainage basin. The Arkansas River flows directly to the Mississippi River and is not a Missouri River tributary. The Platte River, like the Kansas River, is an east-oriented Missouri River tributary with headwaters in the high Rocky Mountains. The Kansas River drainage basin begins on the high plains east of the Rocky Mountains. All drainage history interpretations in this overview essay and in the more detailed essays are based on topographic map evidence illustrated in the detailed essays and no effort has been made to introduce evidence from other sources.

  • The Kansas River drainage basin was formed by headward erosion of the Kansas River valley and its major east-oriented tributary valleys (in sequence from south to north) across immense south and southeast oriented floods. Flood waters were derived from a rapidly melting thick North American ice sheet and at the time Kansas River drainage basin formation began were flowing across northern Kansas to what were then actively eroding south oriented Arkansas River tributary valleys, which had eroded headward from what was then the newly eroded Arkansas River valley. The ice sheet involved had been several kilometers thick and had deep “roots”, perhaps as much as one kilometer or more below the surface upon which the ice sheet had formed. The deep “hole” in which the ice sheet was located had been formed by a combination of deep glacial erosion under the ice sheet and by crustal warping caused by the ice sheet’s tremendous weight. Ice sheet caused crustal warping also resulted in uplifts of ice marginal regions elsewhere on the continent, and uplift of Rocky Mountain ranges and high plateau areas, including the high plains of western Kansas and eastern Colorado occurred as massive melt water floods flowed across them. Deep melt water flood erosion, and perhaps deposition of flood transported sediments, significantly altered ice marginal regions and probably regions throughout the North American continent. It is probable south oriented melt water floods stripped hundreds of meters of bedrock from much if not all of the Kansas River drainage basin prior to events recorded by present day topography, although there is no topographic map evidence available to confirm this possibility. In any case, at the time Kansas River drainage basin formation began immense south and southeast oriented floods were flowing across northern Kansas and the decaying ice sheet southwest margin was probably located near the present day Missouri River valley in North and South Dakota. Also, at that time a giant southeast and south oriented complex of melt water rivers was located roughly along the present day east-west continent divide alignment and was being dismembered by a combination of Rocky Mountain uplift (from the south to the north) and by headward erosion of deep valleys from both the east and west (again from south to north).
  • Arkansas River valley headward erosion into the present day state of Kansas first captured the southeast and south oriented flood waters and diverted the flood flow in a generally southeast direction to the south oriented Mississippi River valley. South-oriented Arkansas River tributary valleys then eroded headward from the newly Arkansas River valley. Missouri River valley headward erosion (across the state of Missouri) next captured the south oriented flood flow and the east and northeast-oriented Osage River valley eroded headward from the newly eroded Missouri River valley. Osage River valley and subsequently Osage River tributary valley (e.g. Marais des Cygnes River valley) headward erosion then beheaded south oriented flood flow routes in eastern Kansas while Missouri River-Kansas River valley headward erosion to the north beheaded south oriented flood flow routes to the newly eroded Osage River and Osage River tributary valleys. Kansas River-Smoky Hill River valley headward erosion then beheaded south and southeast oriented flood flow routes to the newly eroded Arkansas River valley and to the actively eroding south oriented Arkansas River tributary valleys. Headward erosion of the east-oriented Saline River valley from the newly eroded Smoky Hill River valley next beheaded south-oriented flood flow to the Smoky Hill River valley and headward erosion of the Solomon River valley then beheaded south and southeast oriented flood flow to the newly eroded and actively eroding Saline River valley. Next Republican River valley (and northeast-oriented Republican River tributary valley) headward erosion beheaded southeast and south oriented flood flow to the newly eroded Solomon River valley and to actively eroding Solomon River tributary valleys as well as to actively eroding Smoky Hill River headwaters valleys. Big Blue River-Platte River-South Platte River valley headward erosion next beheaded all south- and southeast-oriented flood flow routes to the newly eroded Republican River valley and to actively eroding Republican River tributary valleys. Finally headward erosion of a northeast-oriented Platte River valley segment in central Nebraska beheaded east-oriented flood flow routes to the Big Blue River drainage basin and created the present day Platte River valley in Nebraska.

Figure 2: Slightly more detailed regional map (than figure 1) of the western half of the east-oriented Kansas River drainage basin. Note how the Republican, Solomon, Saline, and Smoky Hill Rivers originate in eastern Colorado and western Kansas and then diverge to flow along separate routes to the figure 2 east edge. National Geographic Society map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 2 provides a slightly more detailed regional map (than figure 1) of the Kansas River drainage basin west half. The Arkansas River after flowing from the Rocky Mountains flows from Pueblo, Colorado in the figure 2 southwest corner along the figure 2 south edge to Garden City, Kansas. Near Garden City the Arkansas River makes a jog south of the figure 2 south edge and then flows in a northeast direction to Great Bend, Kansas. At Great Bend the Arkansas River turns to flow in a southeast direction to the figure 2 east edge (near the figure 2 southeast corner). Walnut Creek is an east-oriented tributary joining the Arkansas River at Great Bend. The Smoky Hill River (a Kansas River tributary) originates near Cheyenne Wells, Colorado (very near the Colorado-Kansas border) and flows in an east direction into Kansas and to the figure 2 east edge (south half). Hackberry Creek and Big Creek are east-southeast oriented Smoky Hill River tributaries in western Kansas. Directly north of Hackberry Creek and Big Creek is the east-oriented Saline River, which originates near Oakley, Kansas and which flows to the figure 2 east edge (south half). Originating a short distance west of the Saline River headwaters is east-northeast oriented South Fork Solomon River, which flows to the figure 2 east center edge where it joins the parallel east-northeast and east oriented North Fork Solomon River. North and west of the North Fork Solomon River are a series of northeast-oriented Republican River tributaries, beginning with Prairie Dog Creek and including Beaver Creek, South Fork Republican River, and the Arikaree River. These northeast-oriented Republican River tributaries flow to the east-oriented Republican River, which is located just north of the Nebraska-Kansas border and which is a Kansas River tributary. The Republican River also has southeast oriented tributaries in southwest Nebraska and in the Colorado northeast corner. West and northwest of the Republican River headwaters is the northeast-oriented South Platte River, including some north-oriented South Platte River tributaries. The South Platte River joins the southeast oriented North Platte River near North Platte, Nebraska (near figure 2 north edge) to form the southeast and northeast oriented Platte River seen in the figure 2 northeast quadrant. Today the Platte River flows directly to the Missouri River and is not a Kansas River tributary. However in the figure 2 northeast corner area are Big Blue River headwaters beginning almost on the Platte River valley edge (the stream labeled “Little” is the Little Blue River, which is a Big Blue River tributary). The Big Blue River is a Kansas River tributary.
  • Topographic map evidence presented in detailed essays describing Kansas River and Platte River drainage basin drainage divide areas in Kansas and Nebraska suggests the following sequence of events resulted in erosion of present day Kansas River tributary valleys. Initially immense southeast and south-oriented melt water floods flowed across the entire region, with significant flood flow moving along routes now located in the high Rocky Mountains to the west of figure 2. The Arkansas River valley eroded headward from the Mississippi River valley into and across the figure 2 map area to capture the massive south-oriented flood flow and to divert flood waters to the Mississippi River valley. Arkansas River valley headward erosion continued into the present day Rocky Mountain region to capture south-oriented flood flow still moving there. At that time the Rocky Mountains were just beginning to emerge (from the south to the north) and flood waters flowing through the emerging mountains eroded deep valleys or canyons. Headward erosion of the east-oriented Smoky Hill River valley (from the newly eroded Kansas-Missouri River valley) followed slightly behind Arkansas River valley headward erosion and captured south-oriented flood flow moving to the newly eroded Arkansas River valley (in Kansas). While flood flow to the actively eroding Smoky Hill River valley probably moved through the Rocky Mountain area west of figure 2, the flood flow routes were captured by northeast-oriented Republican River tributary valleys before Smoky Hill River valley headward erosion could reach the Rocky Mountain front. However, before Republican River valley headward erosion captured all flood flow routes to the actively eroding Smoky Hill River valley headward erosion of the Saline River valley (from the Smoky Hill River valley east of figure 2) captured flood flow routes to the newly eroded Smoky Hill River valley and subsequently Solomon River valley headward erosion (also from the Smoky Hill River valley) captured all flood flow routes to the newly eroded Saline River valley. Republican River valley and northeast-oriented Republican River tributary valley headward erosion (from the Kansas River valley) next beheaded all flood flow routes to the actively eroding Solomon River valley and to the actively eroding Smoky Hill River headwaters valley. Finally Big Blue River and tributary valley headward erosion (from the Kansas River valley) and Platte River valley headward erosion (west of Kearney, Nebraska) and the northeast-oriented South Platte River valley headward erosion beheaded all flood flow routes to the newly eroded and actively eroding Republican River valley and its northeast-oriented tributary valleys. Headward erosion of the northeast-oriented Platte River valley (east of Kearney, Nebraska) captured the Platte River and beheaded flood flow routes to the Big Blue River valley.

Figure 3: Slightly more detailed regional map of the Kansas River drainage basin east half. Note how the Republican, Solomon, Saline, Smoky Hill, and Big Blue Rivers converge to form the Kansas River. National Geographic Society map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 3 provides a slightly more detailed regional map (than figure 1) of the Kansas River drainage basin east half and includes overlap areas with figure 2. Note in figure 3 how the east oriented Saline River joins the east-southeast, north, and east-northeast oriented Smoky Hill River near Salina, Kansas and then the east- and southeast-oriented Solomon River joins the east-northeast oriented Smoky Hill River at Solomon (a short distance east of Salina). Note also how the east-oriented Republican River, after flowing just north of the Nebraska-Kansas border turns at Superior, Nebraska (on the border) to flow in a south-southeast direction to join the Smoky Hill River at Junction City, Kansas (between Salina and Topeka). The combined river is named the Kansas River and near Manhattan (a short distance east of Junction City) the east and south-southeast oriented Big Blue River also joins the Kansas River. Finally the east-oriented Kansas River joins the south-southeast oriented Missouri River at Kansas City and the Missouri River then turns to flow in an east-northeast direction to the figure 3 east edge. The Missouri River change in direction at Kansas City suggests the east-oriented Kansas River and its east-oriented Smoky Hill River are really extensions of the east-oriented Missouri River route to the east while the south-southeast oriented Missouri River valley route north of Kansas City was eroded headward from the east-oriented valley in much the same way that the south-southeast oriented Big Blue River, Republican River, and Solomon River valley segments were eroded.

  • What is particularly interesting about the Kansas River tributaries described in this overview essay is the major tributaries all have headwaters in the same general region of western Kansas and eastern Colorado and then diverge to flow along separate routes only to converge again in central and eastern Kansas to form the Kansas River. This divergence and convergence of Kansas River tributary valleys, which is even more pronounced if the South Platte River-Platte River-Big Blue River history is considered, suggests major Kansas River tributary valleys eroded in sequence (from south to north) as channels in a giant east-oriented anastomosing channel complex. Even more interesting is evidence presented in the detailed essays that headward erosion of this east-oriented anastomosing channel complex captured south and southeast-oriented flood flow moving in what was probably an equally large, if not larger, south and southeast-oriented anastomosing channel complex. Evidence for the south and southeast-oriented anastomosing channel complex includes north-south oriented through valleys eroded across the present day west to east oriented drainage divides between the major east-oriented Kansas River tributaries and between the Kansas River drainage basin and the adjacent east-oriented drainage basins. Topographic maps included in the detailed Kansas River drainage basin essays and in detailed essays for the Big Blue River, Republican River, Solomon River, Saline River, Smoky Hill River, and Platte River drainage basins illustrate these through valleys. The Kansas River drainage basin history provided in this overview essay and in the more detailed essays is fundamentally different from most previously published interpretations. I encourage readers to study topographic maps of the Missouri River drainage basin and to determine which interpretations best explain the valley orientations, elbows of capture, barbed tributaries, erosional escarpments, through valleys, anastomosing valley complexes, and many other features seen.

Introduction to Missouri River drainage basin research project essay series

  • This Kansas River drainage basin landform origins overview essay and its related detailed essays is one of a series of overview essays and related detailed 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 collection in this series relates to a specific Missouri River tributary, tributary to a present day Missouri River tributary, or a present day Missouri River valley segment. Each detailed essay illustrates and discusses detailed topographic map evidence describing the evolution of a secondary drainage divide separating specified Missouri River tributary valleys.
  • 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 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 Kansas River drainage basin evidence in this overview essay and its related detailed essays is presented for review and discussion by qualified research geomorphologists and geologists.

Additional information and sources of maps

This essay has only provided a sample of the drainage divide evidence supporting the “thick ice sheet that melted fast” geomorphology paradigm. Many additional examples could be provided, especially by using more detailed topographic maps. Readers are encouraged to look at mosaics of detailed topographic maps to see the abundance of supporting data. Maps used in this study were created by the United States Geological Survey and can be purchased in hard copy from the United States Geological Survey or from dealers offering United States Geological Survey maps. Hard copy maps can also be observed at United States Geological Survey map depositories located in major research libraries and elsewhere throughout the United States and in other countries. Illustrations used in this essay were created using National Geographic Society TOPO software and digital data. National Geographic Society digital maps can be purchased from the National Geographic Society or from dealers offering National Geographic Society digital maps.

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