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

· Kansas, Overview essays, Saline River
Authors

A geomorphic history based on topographic map evidence

Abstract:

This essay provides highlights from more detailed essays describing origins of drainage divides surrounding the Kansas Saline River drainage basin. The more detailed essays can be found under Saline River on this website’s sidebar category list. Interpretations in this overview essay and in detailed essays contained in this Saline River drainage basin landform origins essay collection are based on topographic map evidence and no effort has been made to introduce evidence from other sources. The Saline River originates a short distance west of Oakley, Kansas and flows in an east and east-southeast direction to join the Smoky Hill River near Salina, Kansas. South of the Saline River is east and east-southeast oriented Big Creek, which originates a short distance east of Oakley and which joins the east-oriented Smoky Hill River south of Russell, Kansas. North of the Saline River is the east and east-northeast oriented South Fork Solomon River, which flows to the southeast-oriented Solomon River, which joins the Smoky Hill River at Solomon, Kansas (east of Salina). The South Fork Solomon River originates near the Saline River point of origin, also a short distance west of Oakley. The diverging and converging river valleys provide evidence of what was once a giant east-oriented anastomosing channel complex, which was formed during immense melt water floods which flowed across Kansas. Flood waters were derived from a rapidly melting thick North American ice sheet and were originally moving in a south and southeast direction. The south and southeast-oriented melt water floods were captured by headward erosion of the east-oriented river valleys in sequence from south to north, with Smoky Hill River and Big Creek valley headward erosion occurring before Saline River valley headward erosion. Saline River valley headward erosion beheaded flood flow to the newly eroded Smoky Hill River-Big Creek valley. South Fork Solomon River valley headward erosion from the newly eroded Solomon River valley next beheaded south-oriented flood flow to the newly eroded Saline River valley. Flood waters came from different locations on the decaying ice sheet surface and used different routes to reach the Saline River drainage basin region. All Saline River essays illustrate and describe evidence, including numerous north-south oriented through valleys eroded across the South Fork Solomon River-Saline River, the Saline River-Smoky Hill River, and Saline River-Big Creek drainage divides, which supports this flood origin interpretation.

Saline River drainage basin location map

Figure 1: Saline River location map showing an area in Kansas and an area of southern Nebraska (select and click on maps to enlarge). National Geographic Society map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Understanding Saline River drainage basin history

This essay provides highlights from more detailed essays found under Saline River on this website’s sidebar category list. All essays use topographic map evidence to determine origins of drainage divides within the Saline River drainage basin and also of drainage divides between the Saline River drainage basin and adjacent drainage basins. All interpretations are based on topographic map evidence and evidence from other sources is not considered. Interpretations are also made from the perspective of a previously unexplored “thick ice sheet that melted fast” geomorphology paradigm. The framework of ideas on which this new geomorphology paradigm is based suggests immense south and southeast-oriented melt water floods from a rapidly melting North American ice sheet once flowed across the present day Saline River drainage basin. If correct the Saline River valley eroded headward as it captured the massive south and southeast-oriented flood flow and diverted flood waters to what was then the newly eroded Smoky Hill and Kansas River valley. Saline River valley headward erosion beheaded south and southeast-oriented flood flow routes to what were then actively eroding Smoky Hill River tributary valleys located south of the actively eroding Saline River valley. Headward erosion of the Solomon River-South Fork Solomon River valley subsequently beheaded flood flow routes to the newly eroded Saline River valley.

  • The Saline River is today one of several east-oriented Kansas River tributaries originating in or passing through a relatively small western Kansas region and flowing along diverging routes to eventually join in eastern Kansas. The Saline River originates a short distance west of Oakley, Kansas and flows in a generally east and east-southeast direction to join the Smoky Hill River near Salina, Kansas. From Salina the Smoky Hill River flows in an east-northeast direction to join the Republican River near Junction City, Kansas and to form the east-oriented Kansas River, which joins the Missouri River at Kansas City, Missouri. South of the Saline River is east and east-southeast oriented Big Creek, which originates a short distance east of Oakley and which joins the Smoky Hill River south of Russell, Kansas. Hackberry Creek is an east-southeast oriented Smoky Hill River south of Big Creek and also originates in the Oakley region. North of the Saline River is the east and east-northeast oriented South Fork Solomon River, which flows to the southeast-oriented Solomon River, which joins the Smoky Hill River at Solomon, Kansas (located east of Salina). The South Fork Solomon River also originates near the Saline River point of origin, also a short distance west of Oakley. Flowing in a northeast direction, just a short distance west of the South Fork Solomon River and Saline River origin points, are northeast-oriented Prairie Dog Creek and Sappa Creek, which join the east-oriented Republican River in southern Nebraska. The Republican River, after flowing in east direction across southern Nebraska, turns to flow in southeast direction to join the Smoky Hill River and to form the east-oriented Kansas River.
  • These diverging and converging Kansas river valleys describe what was once a massive east-oriented anastomosing channel complex, formed during immense south and southeast-oriented melt water floods which flowed across Kansas. Flood waters were derived from a rapidly melting North American ice sheet and were moving in a south and southeast direction only to be captured by headward erosion of east-oriented Kansas River tributary valleys, with Smoky Hill River valley headward erosion occurring first. Hackberry Creek valley and Big Creek valley headward erosion from the newly eroded Smoky Hill River valley next beheading flood flow to the newly eroded Smoky Hill River valley. Saline River valley headward erosion then beheaded flood flow to the newly eroded Smoky Hill River, Big Creek, and Hackberry Creek valleys. South Fork Solomon River valley headward erosion from the newly eroded Solomon River valley beheaded south oriented flood flow to the newly eroded Saline River valley. North Fork Solomon River valley headward erosion from the newly eroded Solomon River valley and Sappa Creek and Prairie Dog Creek valley headward erosion from the newly eroded Republican River valley then beheaded flood flow to the actively eroding South Fork Solomon River valley. The giant east-oriented anastomosing channel complex formed by these diverging and converging east-oriented Kansas River tributary valleys captured flood waters from what had been an equally large, if not larger, south and southeast-oriented anastomosing channel complex and diverted the captured flood waters to what was then the newly eroded Missouri River valley.

Figure 2: More detailed regional map (than figure 1) illustrating west end of the Saline River drainage basin and its relationship to adjacent drainage basins. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

To better understand the east-oriented anastomosing channel complex from which the present day east-oriented Kansas River tributary valleys were formed figure 2 provides a more detailed regional map of the Saline River drainage basin west end. The South Fork Saline River originates near the Thomas County southwest corner and flows in an east direction to join the east-southeast oriented North Fork Saline River near the Thomas County southeast corner. From the Sheridan County southwest corner the Saline River flows in an east direction near the Sheridan County south boundary and then to the figure 2 east edge. Directly north of Saline River headwaters in Thomas County is the east-oriented South Fork Solomon River, which also flows across southern Thomas County. The South Fork Solomon River originates in the Sherman County southwest corner and after flowing across southern Thomas County flows in an east-northeast direction to west-central Sheridan County and then to the figure 2 east edge. The northeast-oriented stream originating just west of the South Fork Solomon River point of origin is the South Fork Sappa Creek, which flows to the figure 2 north center edge. The northeast-oriented stream originating in west-central Thomas County and flowing through Colby to the figure 2 north edge is Prairie Dog Creek. Sappa Creek and Prairie Dog Creek are tributaries to the east-oriented Republican River, which flows across southern Nebraska (see figure 1). Near Superior, Nebraska the east-oriented Republican River turns to flow in a south-southeast, east, and south-southeast direction to join the Smoky Hill River and to form the east-oriented Kansas River. Note how the North Fork Solomon River also originates in west-central Thomas County, just south of the Prairie Dog Creek headwaters and just north of the east-oriented South Fork Solomon River headwaters, and flows to the figure 2 northeast corner area. East of the figure 2 map area the North and South Fork Solomon River flow along different, but roughly parallel, routes before finally joining to form the southeast-oriented Solomon River.

  • South of the Saline River headwaters the drainage pattern is just as interesting. Big Creek originates in the Gove County northwest corner and flows in an east-southeast direction across northern Gove County and is located just south of the east-oriented Saline River. Directly south of Big Creek is east-southeast oriented Hackberry Creek, with headwaters originating in southwest Sherman County just west of the Saline River headwaters and just south and east of the South Fork Sappa Creek headwaters. Big Creek and Hackberry Creek are Smoky Hill River tributaries and the east-southeast and east oriented Smoky Hill River can be seen flowing across central Wallace and Logan Counties and then southern Gove County before flowing the figure 2 east edge (near the southeast corner). Note how the North Fork Smoky Hill River flows across southern Sherman County to the Logan County northwest corner before joining the Smoky Hill River a short distance west of Russell Springs. The figure 1 and 2 evidence shows how Republican River, Solomon River, Saline River, and Smoky Hill River tributary valleys all originate in a relatively small region in southwest Thomas County and southeast Sherman County and then diverge to flow along what are today fundamentally different routes only to converge again in central and eastern Kansas to form the east-oriented Kansas River.

Figure 3: More detailed regional map (than figure 1) illustrating east end of Saline River drainage basin and its relationship to adjacent drainage basins. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

 
Figure 3 provides a more detailed regional map (than figure 1) of the central Kansas region where several of  the diverging streams seen in figure 2 converge in the east-northeast oriented Smoky Hill River valley a short distance west of where the south-southeast oriented Republican River joins the Smoky Hill River to form the east-oriented Kansas River. The Smoky Hill River flows in an east direction from the figure 3 west edge across southern Russell County and then in an east-southeast direction to the Ellsworth County southeast corner before turning to flow in a north direction to Salina (in Saline County) and then in an east-northeast direction to the figure 3 east center edge. East of the figure 3 map area the Smoky Hill River joins the south-southeast oriented Republican River to form the east-oriented Kansas River (the Republican River and Kansas River are not seen in figure 3). The Saline River flows in an east-southeast direction from the figure 3 west edge to Wilson Lake in eastern Russell County and then in an east-northeast and east-southeast direction across Lincoln County and into Saline County to join the Smoky Hill River just east of Salina. The southeast-oriented Solomon River flows from the figure 3 north edge across Ottawa County to join the Smoky Hill River near the figure 3 east center edge. Essays describing Solomon River drainage basin evidence are found under Solomon River (on the sidebar category list), describing Smoky Hill River drainage basin evidence are found under Smoky Hill River, and describing Republican River drainage basin evidence are found under Republican River.

  • The above mentioned essay collections along with the Saline River drainage basin essays include several hundred topographic maps of showing much more detailed evidence than can be seen on regional maps such as figures 1, 2, and 3. However, figure 2 and 3 evidence does demonstrate the Smoky Hill River valley, Saline River valley, Solomon River valley, and their tributary valleys eroded headward in sequence from south to north to capture multiple south-oriented flood flow channels. Evidence supporting this capture of south-oriented flood flow is found in figure 3 in the orientation of tributaries to the Smoky Hill, Saline, and Solomon Rivers. Beginning with the Smoky Hill River note how most tributaries from the south are oriented in north or north-northeast directions. Also note along the figure 3 south edge headwaters of multiple south-oriented streams. The south-oriented streams are Arkansas River tributaries and flow either flow directly to the Arkansas River or to Arkansas River tributaries. Note also (especially in Ellsworth County and Lincoln County) how Smoky Hill River tributaries from the north are oriented in a south direction and Saline River tributaries from the south are oriented in a north direction. Further note south-oriented Saline River tributaries from the north and north-oriented tributaries to a southeast oriented Solomon River tributary (Salt Creek). This north- and south-orientation of many tributaries to southeast and east-oriented trunk streams provides evidence the trunk stream valleys were eroded headward in sequence from south to north across multiple south-oriented flood flow channels.
  • The Arkansas River is located south of the figure 3 map area and while generally oriented in a southeast direction, it does make a significant jog to the northeast to Great Bend (seen in figure 1) before turning to flow in a southeast direction again and to eventually reach the Mississippi River. The Smoky Hill River flows to the east-oriented Kansas River, which is a Missouri River tributary, meaning the Smoky Hill River-Arkansas River drainage divide seen near the figure 3 south margin (except in the southeast corner area) is the Missouri River drainage basin-Arkansas River drainage divide. The multiple south-oriented Arkansas River tributary valleys were eroded headward along south-oriented flood flow routes moving immense south-oriented melt water floods to the newly eroded Arkansas River valley, which had eroded headward from the Mississippi River valley. Headward erosion of the Smoky Hill River valley from what was then the newly eroded Kansas and Missouri River valley beheaded the south-oriented flood flow routes to the actively eroding Arkansas River tributary valleys. Flood waters on north ends of the beheaded flood flow routes reversed flow direction to erode the north-oriented Smoky Hill River tributary valleys. The north-oriented Smoky Hill River valley segment south of Salina was eroded by such a reversal of south-oriented flood flow. The south-oriented flood flow channels were beheaded in sequence from east to west and were beheaded one at a time. The south-oriented flood flow channels were also interconnected meaning reversed flood flow in a newly beheaded flood flow channel could capture yet to be beheaded flood flow from flood flow channels further to the west. Such captures of flood flow helped erode the north-oriented tributary valleys seen today.
  • Saline River valley headward erosion proceeded slightly after Smoky Hill River valley and beheaded the south-oriented flood flow channels moving flood waters to what were then the actively eroding south-oriented Smoky Hill River tributary valleys. Again flood waters on north ends of beheaded flood flow channels reversed flow direction to erode north-oriented Saline River tributary valleys. Figure 3 does not show topography, however topographic maps included in the detailed Saline River drainage basin landform origins essays illustrate north-south oriented through valleys linking the north-oriented Saline River tributary valleys with the south-oriented Smoky Hill River tributary valleys. The through valleys provide further evidence of multiple south-oriented flood flow channels to the actively eroding south-oriented Smoky Hill River tributary valleys prior to headward erosion of the deep Saline River valley. The process was repeated when headward erosion of the southeast-oriented Solomon River-Salt Creek valley beheaded south-oriented flood flow routes to the newly eroded Saline River valley and to actively eroding south-oriented Saline River tributary valleys. Headward erosion of the Solomon River valley (north of the newly eroded Salt Creek valley) beheaded south-oriented flood flow to the newly eroded Salt Creek valley and repeated the process again.
  • Headward erosion of the Smoky Hill River valley occurred slightly in advance of Saline River valley headward erosion. Saline River valley headward erosion occurred slightly in advance of Solomon River-South Fork Solomon River valley headward erosion. Solomon River-North-Fork Solomon River valley headward erosion occurred slightly in advance of Republican River-Prairie Dog Creek headward erosion. And the sequence can be further defined in terms of tributary valleys and in terms of adjacent drainage basins. Because the Smoky Hill River valley reached the figure 2 map area slightly in advance of the Saline River valley, which reached the figure 2 map area slightly in advance of the South Fork Solomon River valley, which reached the figure 2 map area slightly in advance of the North Fork Solomon River, which reached the figure 2 map area slightly in advance of the Republican River-Prairie Dog Creek valley, which reached the figure 2 map area slightly in advance of the Republican River-Sappa Creek valley, there was east-oriented flood water flowing in all of these valleys simultaneously until headward erosion of Republican River tributary valleys beheaded all flood flow routes to the North Fork Solomon River, Saline River, and South Fork Solomon River valleys and subsequently beheaded all flood flow routes to the Smoky Hill River and tributary valleys. Headward erosion of the Missouri River-Platte River-South Platte River valley still later beheaded all flood flow routes to the newly eroded Republican River valley and flood flow to the newly eroded Kansas River drainage basin ended.

Figure 4: Topographic map illustrating north-south oriented through valleys eroded across the Saline River-Smoky Hill River drainage divide area east of Russell, Kansas. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

Figure 4 provides an example of topographic map evidence included in the Saline River drainage basin landform origins detailed essays. The east-oriented Smoky Hill River is located along the figure 4 south edge. The east-oriented Saline River is located near the figure 4 north edge and flows into Wilson Lake. Note how Smoky Hill River tributaries from the north are oriented in south and south-southeast directions and how many Saline River tributaries from the south are oriented in north or north-northeast directions. Also note how northeast-oriented Saline River tributaries have north-oriented tributaries. A close look at the Saline River-Smoky Hill River drainage divide reveals several north-south oriented shallow through valleys linking valleys of north-oriented Saline River tributaries with valleys of south-oriented Smoky Hill River tributaries. Generally through valleys on this figure 4 map are defined by a single contour line. The through valleys are much more apparent on more detailed topographic maps, some of which are included in the more detailed essays. Through valleys at some other locations are deeper than those shown in figure 4, although many of the through valleys crossing the drainage divide are similar to those seen in figure 4. The relatively narrow Saline River-Smoky Hill River drainage divide area, the roughly parallel Saline and Smoky Hill River valleys, the orientations of Saline and Smoky Hill River tributaries, and the multiple shallow through valleys crossing the Saline River-Smoky Hill River drainage divide all provide evidence the Smoky Hill River valley and later the Saline River valley eroded headward across multiple south-oriented flood flow channels. Headward erosion of the deep Smoky Hill River valley first captured the south-oriented flood flow and diverted the flood waters east to the newly eroded Kansas and Missouri River valleys. Next headward erosion of the deep Saline River valley beheaded the south-oriented flood flow channels moving flood waters to what were then actively eroding south-oriented Smoky Hill River tributary valleys. Reversals of flood flow on north ends of beheaded flood flow channels were responsible for erosion of the north-oriented Saline River tributary valleys. Again because flood flow channels were beheaded one at a time and were interconnected, reversed flood flow in newly beheaded channels could capture flood flow still moving in channels further to the west. Such captures of flood water from further to the west provided the water volumes required to erode the north-oriented tributary valleys. Many additional examples of similar evidence are shown in topographic maps included in the Saline River drainage basin landform origins detailed essays and in detailed essays for adjacent river drainage basins.

Introduction to Missouri River drainage basin research project essay series

  • This Saline 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 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 Solomon 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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