The Missouri River drainage basin landform origins research project is the first known scientific expedition of discovery to systematically study detailed topographic map evidence for all major drainage divide areas within and surrounding the Missouri River drainage basin and in a sense is a modern-day equivalent of historical voyages of discovery where explorers traveled into previously unexplored territories.
Why is the Missouri River drainage basin landform origins research project an expedition of discovery?
Prior to the late 20th century scientific expeditions of discovery frequently mapped what at that time was for the scientific community uncharted territory. Today in the 21st century excellent topographic maps exist for nearly all North American regions, although surprisingly the scientific community has ignored and continues to ignore erosional landform information shown on those topographic maps and instead uses other types of data to develop regional geologic histories. The ignored topographic map evidence has never been systematically investigated and the Missouri River drainage basin landform origins research project is systematically observing and interpreting vast quantities of previously unexplained and/or poorly explained Missouri River drainage basin erosional landform evidence for the first time
Where is the Missouri River drainage basin?
The Missouri River drains a large region of the North American continental interior to the Mississippi River, which then flows to the Gulf of Mexico. The Missouri River drainage basin includes large regions in the states of Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado and smaller areas in Minnesota and in the Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta. The Missouri River drainage basin is bounded on the east by the south oriented Mississippi River drainage basin, on the north and northeast by the north-south continental divide and drainage to Hudson Bay, on the west by the east-west continental divide and drainage to the Pacific Ocean, and on the south by the Arkansas River drainage basin, which drains to the Mississippi River.
What Missouri River drainage basin landform origins research project components are found on this website?
Missouri River drainage basin landform origins research project components on this geomorphologyresearch.com website consist of more than 500 detailed essays (or sets of research notes) systematically illustrating and interpreting topographic map evidence for more than 500 specific drainage divide areas. In addition this website includes more than 40 overview essays summarizing evidence for specified Missouri River tributary drainage basins (or Missouri River segments) and several project information essays (such as this essay). Essays for specific drainage divide areas and/or Missouri River tributary drainage divide areas can be found by using this website’s sidebar category list and/or by using the website’s search tool to identify essays containing desired keywords.
Each of the more than 500 detailed essays includes one or more location maps and approximately eight topographic maps illustrating a specified Missouri River drainage basin drainage divide area. A description and interpretation of observed evidence illustrated on each of the maps is provided. Topographic maps of different scales are frequently included to illustrate large area landform evidence along with more specific and detailed evidence related to the same landforms. As a group the detailed essays illustrate and interpret erosional landforms for thousands of previously ignored and/or poorly explained erosional landforms and cover the entire Missouri River drainage basin.
The first 351 detailed essays and the overview essays were written and published on the Google Knol site between August of 2009 and November of 2011 as the systematic study encountered each new drainage divide area. The initial 351 essays were transferred from the Google Knol site to this geomorphologyresearch.com website during November and December of 2011. Overview essays were also transferred at that time. Following the transfer the systematic study encountered 169 more Missouri River drainage basin drainage divide areas and detailed essays illustrating and describing those drainage divide areas were written and added to this website on dates included in the posts.
Previous work and fundamental assumptions
The Missouri River drainage basin landform origins research project is built on the work of thousands of United States Geological Survey cartographers, scientists, and others who between 1879 and 1992 prepared United States topographic maps and also on the work of Natural Resources Canada cartographers, scientists, and others who prepared Canadian topographic maps. References for each essay on this website are the illustrated topographic maps. The Missouri River drainage basin landform origins research project’s most fundamental assumption is topographic maps of the Missouri River drainage basin are correctly drawn and portray the landforms as those landforms actually exist.
A second fundamental assumption made in Missouri River drainage basin landform origins research project essays is significant segments of the present day Missouri River valley were eroded by melt water from a North American ice sheet and prior to headward erosion of the Missouri River valley large melt water floods flowed across the present day north-south continental divide and then into and across Missouri River drainage basin regions located south and west of the present day Missouri River valley. Water-eroded valleys crossing drainage divides south and west of the present day Missouri River valley, regardless of present day elevations, are interpreted to have been eroded by these melt water floods with present day drainage divide elevation differences being developed as headward erosion of even deeper valleys captured the melt water floods and/or as ice sheet related crustal warping raised mountain and plateau areas.
Important Missouri River drainage basin landform origins research project observations and discoveries include the following:
- All of the more than 500 Missouri River drainage basin landform origins research project detailed essays illustrate and document topographic map evidence that multiple melt water eroded valleys cross every drainage divide area encountered regardless of present day elevation and/or location. Melt water floods crossed the present day north-south continental divide north of the Missouri River drainage basin and also crossed the drainage divide with the Mississippi River drainage basin located east of the Missouri River drainage basin. Further melt water floods crossed drainage divides separating the Missouri River drainage basin from the White River and Arkansas River drainage basins to the south. In addition melt water floods crossed the present day east-west continental divide, which today is located along or near the Rocky Mountain crest. In summary melt water floods crossed all drainage divides in the present day Missouri River drainage basin, which means the entire Missouri River drainage system was eroded by immense melt water floods flowing from a North American ice sheet. To the best of my knowledge existing scientific literature has not described this observation.
- Topographic map evidence demonstrates barbed tributaries and elbows of capture are common in all regions of the Missouri River drainage basin and are evidence of countless capture events. The barbed tributaries and elbows of capture provide evidence of flood flow channels, which were captured by headward erosion of deeper flood flow channels or valleys. At the same time no evidence was found for what could be a convincing dendritic drainage pattern anywhere in the Missouri River drainage basin. The existing scientific literature implies drainage networks frequently develop by random processes, which should make dendritic drainage patterns common and barbed tributaries and elbows of capture rare.
- Excellent topographic map evidence illustrated and described in the detailed essays documents the ice sheet presence north and east of the present day Missouri River valley in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa and also north of the north-south continental divide in southwest Saskatchewan. Other than some limited evidence for an ice sheet presence just west of the Missouri River valley in South Dakota convincing evidence for an ice sheet presence south and west of the Missouri River valley was not found, nor was convincing topographic map evidence found for an ice sheet north of the Missouri River valley in Missouri or in Montana (except for a very small region in the northeast corner of Montana). Ice sheet locations identified in detailed essays are all consistent with North American ice sheet locations described in numerous scientific reports, but suggest the ice sheet may not have reached as far south as the scientific literature suggests. However, detailed essays provide evidence for gigantic rivers of melt water, which probably eroded ice sheet margin areas and which almost certainly transported ice-rafted debris, both processes which would make identification of ice sheet margin locations extremely difficult.
- The Missouri River drainage system evolved as deep valleys eroded headward to capture immense melt water floods. Headward erosion of deep valleys forming the present day Missouri River drainage system began in the south and east and progressed gradually to the west and north. Headward erosion of the Missouri River valley and its tributary valleys first captured south oriented flood flow to what at that time were the newly eroded Arkansas River valley and its tributary valleys. Headward erosion of the deep Colorado River valley from the Pacific Ocean captured south oriented flood flow channels entering what are today South Platte River headwaters areas. Next headward erosion of Platte River tributary valleys (from the Missouri River valley) subsequently captured south oriented flood flow to the newly eroded Colorado River valley and its tributary valleys. To the best of my knowledge the existing scientific literature explains the Missouri River drainage system development in completely different ways.
- Topographic map evidence illustrated in detailed essays documents melt water floods flowed across what are today high mountain ranges, which means the high mountain ranges did not exist when the melt water floods flowed across them. Evidence for flood flow across present day mountain ranges consists of numerous passes and other types of gaps crossing every mountain range the systematic investigation encountered. Anastomosing flood flow channels eroded the passes and other gaps at a time when the mountain ranges were emerging. As the mountain ranges emerged floodwaters were concentrated into deeper and deeper flood flow channels until the flood flow was captured and diverted in other directions by headward erosion of still deeper valleys. To the best of my knowledge the existing scientific literature assumes all Missouri River drainage basin mountain ranges had emerged prior to the continental ice sheet formation.
- Melt water flood flow directions across the Missouri River drainage basin initially were in south and southeast directions, but those directions changed as deep valleys eroded headward into the region and as ice sheet related crustal warping raised mountain and plateau areas. Headward erosion of deep valleys across south oriented flood flow channels often resulted in reversals of the flood flow direction to create north oriented flood flow routes. Because flood flow channels in the Missouri River drainage basin area were beheaded in sequence (usually from east to west) and because flood flow channels diverged and converged reversals of flood flow often captured yet to be beheaded and reversed flood flow from adjacent flood flow channels. Such captures of yet to be beheaded and reversed flood flow helped to create significant north oriented Missouri River drainage routes. Development of what are today major north oriented Missouri River drainage basin drainage routes was frequently aided by ice sheet related crustal warping that was raising mountain and/or plateau areas as floodwaters flowed across them. To the best of my knowledge there is no scientific literature suggesting these processes were responsible for the formation of the present day north oriented Missouri River drainage basin drainage routes.
- A massive flood flow reversal occurred when ice sheet melting progressed to the point where floodwaters could flow into space the ice sheet once occupied. Apparently deep glacial erosion and ice sheet related crustal warping created a deep “hole” in which the large North American ice sheet was located. Topographic map evidence documents the flood flow reversal, which also documents existence of the deep “hole” the decaying North American ice sheet once occupied. To the best of my knowledge the scientific literature does not recognize the presence of an ice sheet created deep “hole” in the North American continent and has overwhelmingly rejected previous hypotheses proposing continental ice sheets deeply eroded the North American continent (at least in the northern plains region north of the Missouri River drainage basin).
- As the ice sheet decayed an immense southeast and south oriented river of melt water flowed across the ice sheet surface to the ice sheet margin in southeast South Dakota and then across the present day Missouri River basin. This river of southeast and south oriented melt water carved a gigantic ice walled canyon into the decaying ice sheet surface. In time the floor elevations of the ice-walled canyon became lower than elevations of melt water floods flowing along the ice sheet’s southwest margin and southeast oriented ice marginal melt water floods were captured by headward erosion of northeast oriented valleys from the deep southeast and south oriented ice-walled canyon. To the best of my knowledge there is no scientific literature describing how an immense southeast and south oriented river of supra-glacial melt water carved a gigantic ice-walled canyon into the decaying ice sheet surface and captured south and southeast oriented ice-marginal melt water floods flowing south and west of the ice sheet margin.
- Eventually the southeast and south oriented ice-walled canyon also became a bedrock-floored canyon and became linked with other ice-walled and bedrock canyons further to the east. Linkages with other ice-walled and bedrock-floored canyons opened up new melt water flood flow routes across the decaying ice sheet’s floor first to the present day Saint Lawrence River drainage system and later to the present day Hudson Bay area, which meant south and southeast oriented floodwaters flowing along the ice sheet’s southwest margin were being captured by headward erosion of much deeper northeast oriented valleys to flow into the deep hole the decaying ice sheet was opening up and then in northeast directions across the decaying ice sheet’s floor. Evidence for the giant ice-walled and bedrock-floored canyons is found today in the form of escarpment-bounded lowlands such as South Dakota’s James River lowland located between the Missouri Escarpment and the Prairie Coteau west-facing escarpment. To the best of my knowledge there is no scientific literature suggesting these and other similar escarpments in North Dakota, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan are remnants of what were once ice-walled and bedrock-floored canyons.
- In addition to evidence for a North American ice sheet, which radically changed the North American continent, topographic evidence also documents what was probably a second ice sheet, which did not significantly alter the continent. The first ice sheet deeply eroded the North American continent while at the same time causing crustal warping, both of which created an immense “hole” in the North American continent in which the ice sheet was located and for these reasons is assumed to have been a thick ice sheet. At least for a time the first ice sheet probably stood high above surrounding regions and generated large melt water floods that flowed in all directions to reach surrounding ocean basins. The first ice sheet eventually decayed as large rivers of supra-glacial melt water sliced gigantic ice-walled and bedrock-floored canyons into its surface. Decay of the first ice sheet eventually resulted in massive melt water flood flow reversals with melt water floods being diverted from flowing to the Gulf of Mexico to flowing back into space the ice sheet had once occupied and then across the decaying ice sheet floor to the North Atlantic Ocean. This massive reversal of melt water flood flow direction apparently ended climatic conditions responsible for the thick ice sheet decay and the reversed melt water floods froze to create what was probably a wet-based thin ice sheet with remnants of the decaying thick ice sheet embedded in it. Decay of the thick North American ice sheet probably occurred during a period of warming Northern Hemisphere climates while formation of the thin ice sheet probably occurred as climates deteriorated and temperatures significantly dropped. The existing scientific literature usually describes a fundamentally different history involving more than two different North American ice sheets.
- Missouri River drainage basin landform origins research project detailed essays describe a fundamentally different North American continental ice sheet history than that described in the existing scientific literature, which perhaps is the reason the scientific community is ignoring the topographic map evidence. However, the topographic map evidence exists and can be seen by anyone willing to take the time to look and needs to be addressed by the scientific community.