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Tonganoxie Sandstone

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Economic Geology

The Tonganoxie sandstone is the most important aquifer in the area under discussion. Nearly all well water for stock and domestic use is obtained from this sandstone. The town of Tonganoxie obtains its water supply from this sandstone in wells east of the town.

The festooned cross-bedded and massive-bedded deposits in the center of the old Tonganoxie Valley have greater porosity and permeability than the thin-bedded sandstone near the old valley margins. Wells drilled at short distances north or south of the old Tonganoxie Valley encounter no Tonganoxie sandstone. In those areas, the Ireland is the most important aquifer near the surface, although locally it is absent also.

Porosity and permeability are best developed in the basal conglomerate, where ground water has dissolved parts of the limestone pebbles and the calcium carbonate matrix. Ground water moves freely along the contact where the conglomerate rests on limestones of the Stanton formation. Poor wells completed above the Upper Sibley coal or in the shale unit of the Tonganoxie sandstone could be improved by deepening to the conglomerate of the Tonganoxie in order to take advantage of the greater porosity of this zone.

Care should be exercised in drilling wells in the upland areas where thick sections of the Ireland and Tonganoxie sandstones occur. In these areas the valley walls of existing streams are steep and thick sections of the sandstones are exposed; ground water drains into the streams through the highly porous sandstone, causing the water table to become appreciably lower during dry weather. Wells in these areas should be deepened to the basal contact of the Tonganoxie sandstone in order to obtain ground water which moves laterally along the surface of the underlying impermeable strata.

The thin coals of the Tonganoxie sandstone have been mined in the past, but such ventures are generally not profitable commercially, except under unusual circumstances such as conditions produced by a war. The coal resources of the Stranger formation (Douglas group) are discussed by Bowsher and Jewett (1943).

The Tonganoxie sandstone is an extensive possible source of fine quartz sand and silt, although the high iron and mica content may limit its use. The poor degree of cementing makes the sandstone very easy to quarry and large deposits with only a thin overburden are present.


The following is a summary of the major results obtained in this study.

1. The Tonganoxie sandstone consists mainly of nonmarine beds of sandstone, shale, and coal which are considered to be the nonmarine units of a cyclothem. The Tonganoxie sediments are divided into four units: conglomerate, sandstone, shale, and coal. Three types of stratification are observed in the sandstone unit: (a) festooned cross-bedded sandstone and (b) massive-bedded siltstones and sandstones in the center of the old Tonganoxie Valley, and (c) thin-bedded sandstone along the valley margins. The festooned cross-bedded and massive-bedded sandstones grade laterally and upward into the thin-bedded sandstones. The thin-bedded sandstone grades upward into the shale unit, which grades vertically into the coal unit.

2. The Tonganoxie sandstone is confined to a valley extending southwestward across northeastern Kansas. Only slight marginal overlap of the upper part of the shale and coal units occur on adjacent divide areas.

3. The Lower Sibley coal is preserved in valley shale remnants of former extensive flood-plain deposits.

4. Excessive thicknesses of sandstone (more than 65 feet) are due to combined thicknesses of the Ireland and Tonganoxie sandstones.

5. Sediments composing the Tonganoxie sandstone were derived from the east and deposited by a southwest-flowing river.

6. The mica of the Tonganoxie is detrital and not authigenic.

7. The Tonganoxie sandstone may be the time equivalent of sandstones of the same name elsewhere in Kansas, but the immediate source of sediments and the depositing rivers probably were not the same.

8. The disconformity at the base of the Tonganoxie sandstone does not represent precisely the same time interval as the regional disconformity outside the Tonganoxie Valley.

9. The Tonganoxie is older than beds overlying the regional disconformity in most places elsewhere.

10. The stratigraphic relations and conditions of deposition of the Tonganoxie sandstone may explain the absence of certain cyclothem units in Kansas.

11. The alignment of the present outcrop is approximately parallel to the old Tonganoxie Valley and is not at a right angle to the direction of the source of sediment.

12. Greater porosity and permeability for ground water prevails in the basal conglomerate and in the festooned cross-bedded and massive-bedded sandstones than in the thin-bedded sandstones and the shale unit of the Tonganoxie sandstone. The sandstone is not encountered in various wells drilled outside the old Tonganoxie Valley.


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Bowsher, A. L., and Jewett, J. M. (1943) Coal resources of the Douglas group in east-central Kansas: Kansas Geol. Survey, Bull. 46, pp. 1-94, figs. 1-12, pls. 1-6. [available online]

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Hall, J. G. (1896) A geologic section from state line, opposite Boicourt, to Alma, principally along the Osage River: Kansas Univ. Geol. Survey, vol. 1, pp. 99-106.

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Kansas Geological Survey, Geology
Placed on web Aug. 7, 2006; originally published Oct. 31, 1950.
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