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Seward County Geohydrology

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Summary of Stratigraphy

The geologic formations that have been recognized in Seward County either through surface outcrops or through the identification of the cuttings from test holes drilled by the Federal and State Geological Surveys are indicated in Table 7. The presumed relationships of the several stratigraphic units involved are indicated diagrammatically in Plate 3. The oldest geologic formations penetrated by the test holes were the redbeds of the Permian system. These do not crop out within the county, but are at the surface in Meade County. Several producing gas wells and oil- and gas-test wells (logs 12, 17, and 18) have been drilled to depths ranging from about 0.5 mile to almost 1 mile below the surface. The shallower of these either found production or drilling was stopped in formations near the base of the Permian system. The log of the deepest test well drilled to date is not now available so that no valid conclusions can be drawn as to what still older geologic systems are present below the Permian.

Table 7--Generalized section of the geologic formations in Seward County, Kansas.

System Series Formation Thickness (feet) Physical Character Water-supply
Quaternary Recent Colluvium 0-30 Sand, gravel, silt, and clay Does not yield water to wells in this area
Unconformable on older formation
Alluvium 0-75 (?) Coarse sand and gravel; contains silt and clay Yields adequate supplies of relatively hard water to domestic and stock wells
Unconformable on older formation
Dune sand 0-60 +/- Medium-grained sand containing fine grained sand and silt Does not yield water to wells in this area, but assists in recharge of underlying formations
  Unconformable on older formation
Recent and Pleistocene Terrace deposits 0-20 (?) Coarse sand and gravel Does not yield water to wells in this area
Unconformable on older formation
Kingsdown silt 0-40 +/- Silt and fine sand containing nodules of caliche
Pleistocene Meade formation 75-100 (?) Sand and gravel at base; sand, silt, clay, and caliche in upper part. Locally contains volcanic ash. Yields moderately hard water to a few wells in the western part of Seward County
  Unconformable on older formation
Tertiary Pliocene Rexroad (?) formation* 15-150 (?) Sand and gravel at base; sand, silt, clay, and caliche in upper part. Cemented with calcium carbonate Yields abundant supplies of moderately hard water to dome wells
Unconformable on older formation
Laverne formation 300-500 (?) Sand, gravel, slit, and clay in lower part; micaceous sand, calcareous sandstone, silt, clay, caliche, and Limestone in upper part Yields water to very few wells in the southeastern part of this area. An important potential source of ground water
  Unconformable on older formation
Cretaceous Gulfian** Dakota formation 0-100 Brown, yellowish-brown, reddish-brown, buff and tan fine grained sandstone, and varicolored clay Locally is a potential source of ground water, but is practically unexploited in this area owing to its considerable depth
Permian Guadalupian** and Leonardian Undifferentiated redbeds 1,500 +/- Brick-red sandstone and silt-stone containing salt, gypsum, anhydrite, and dolomite Locally is a potential source of ground water, but is practically unexploited in this area owing to its considerable depth and its generally high mineral content

* The fauna of the Rexroad (?) formation is believed to be the equivalent of the Blanco fauna of Texas. The Kansas and Nebraska Geological Surveys have adopted the term Blancan to include the deposits in the Central High Plains that contain the Blanco fauna and faunas of the equivalent age. At present there is not general agreement among paleontologists as to whether the Blancan is late Pliocene or early Pleistocene. We correlate the Seward County Rexroad (?) beds with the type Rexroad deposits in Meade County.

** The classification of Permian series is not adopted by the U.S. Geological Survey as applied to Kansas.

The Cretaceous formations which overlie the Permian redbeds do not crop out in Seward County, but have been found in surface exposures not far to the west in Morton County (McLaughlin, 1942), to the northwest in Stanton County (Latta, 1941) and to the south in Texas County, Oklahoma (Schoff, 1939). The nearest Cretaceous outcrops to the east are found in Clark County.

The oldest surface rocks in the county belong to the Laverne formation. Outcrops of the Laverne are restricted to the lower valley slopes along the southeasternmost part of Cimarron Valley in Seward County, but occur also in the adjacent part of Meade County and in Oklahoma. The Laverne formation is separated from the overlying Rexroad (?) formation by a prominent unconformity. Evidence to be presented later indicates that the geologic age of the Laverne is early Pliocene, but the exact age of the Rexroad (?) is still in doubt. The sediments here included in the Rexroad (?) formation crop out principally along the wall of the lower Cimarron Valley, but outcrops of beds as far west as Morton County are believed by us to belong to this formation. Both the Laverne and Rexroad (?) probably underlie all of Seward County.

It was not found practicable to separate the Meade formation from the somewhat younger Kingsdown silt; hence they were mapped as a single undifferentiated unit. The gravel and sand of the Meade crop out extensively along Cimarron Valley. The sand and silt of the Kingsdown directly underlie much of the upland surface north of Cimarron River except where they are concealed beneath relatively thin deposits of dune sand. Paleontologic evidence from this county and from Meade County confirms the Pleistocene age of the Meade formation and the Pleistocene and Recent age of the Kingsdown silt.

The youngest geologic formations in the county--alluvium, colluvium, and dune sand--are primarily Recent in age although part of the dune sand may be older. The alluvium is restricted to the valley bottoms, and the dune sand covers limited areas in Cimarron Valley and large parts of the upland surface.

The areal distribution of the exposed formations is shown in Plate 1, and all of the formations are described in greater detail in the section on geologic formations and their water-bearing properties.

Geologic History

Paleozoic Era

The early episodes in the geologic history of Seward County are obscured by the depth to which rocks formed have been buried beneath the deposits laid down in more recent geologic time. Paleozoic and younger rocks rest on the eroded surface of formations of pre-Cambrian age. The configuration of that surface, as well as the lithologic character of the rocks themselves, can be determined only after the results of deep test drilling over the county are known. From the logs of wells drilled in adjacent areas, it is thought that predominantly marine formations, ranging in age from the Cambrian to the Pennsylvanian (with the possible exception of Silurian and Devonian), lie over the pre-Cambrian floor and have an aggregate thickness of more than 6,000 feet. A deep test drilled near the southwest corner of Meade County in 1944 was drilled to the pre-Cambrian granite. Specific data on this well are not available.

As mentioned above, the production of gas comes from reservoirs in the Chase group of the Wolfcampian series which comprises part of the Permian system. Assuming that the gas produced in this county is from the same beds that supply gas to wells in Stevens County (Ver Wiebe, 1941, p. 98), there is basis for believing that a shallow extension of what is now the Gulf of Mexico covered Seward County in early Permian time. Both marine and shore facies are represented in the strata then laid down. Shortly after the time of deposition of the Chase group, the shallow sea withdrew toward the south and subsequent Permian deposition was of the non-marine type, including such lagoonal deposits as the salt and gypsum beds of the Sumner and Nippewalla groups (Leonardian series). It is thought that the Permian redbeds reached by the Survey test holes belong to the Guadalupian series, also of non-marine origin.

Mesozoic Era

Triassic and Jurassic periods--With the cessation of Permian deposition in this area, there ensued a long interval in which erosion was preponderant over deposition. The occurrence of non-marine beds of Triassic (?) and Jurassic age in Morton County (McLaughlin, 1942, pp. 26-27) might justify the inference that formations of comparable age and character had been deposited in Seward County as well. If so, such deposits have since been removed completely by erosion or are so thin or discontinuous as to have escaped recognition in the test holes thus far drilled in the county.

Cretaceous period--Deposits laid down during the early part of the Cretaceous period underlie the northwestern corner of the county and adjacent areas. In nearby areas where they are better known they comprise two non-marine sandstones (Cheyenne sandstone and Dakota formation) separated by a dark marine shale (Kiowa shale). Of these, only the Dakota formation extends into Seward County. In many parts of Kansas these rocks are overlain by younger marine Cretaceous formations. Had these been deposited in this area, they subsequently must have been eroded completely inasmuch as the well logs studied give no indication of their present existence beneath the surface of Seward County.

Cenozoic Era

Tertiary period--No deposits laid down during the earlier epochs of the Tertiary period, the Paleocene, Eocene, Oligocene, and Miocene have been recognized in the county, either at the surface or in the subsurface. During this long geologic time interval, therefore, the processes of erosion seem to have had greater net effect than the processes of deposition.

During early Pliocene time, the area once again became one of deposition. In this interval the Laverne formation was deposited primarily by streams but also in lakes of relatively limited extent. Soon after deposition, the strata of the Laverne were involved in a deformative movement of the rocks of the area that caused the strata to be inclined locally as much as 15 degrees from the horizontal. The exact nature of the deformation is conjectural because the limited area of outcrop of the Laverne formation makes it difficult to determine the details of the structure produced or the source of the force responsible. The structure was caused at least in part by solution and collapse.

After the deposition of the Laverne formation there may have been a period of erosion. In middle Pliocene time the silt, sand, gravel, and caliche of the Ogallala formation were deposited over much of western Kansas, but these beds were removed from some areas of southwestern Kansas by a later period of erosion. The date of this period of erosion is not known because the exact age of the Rexroad (?) formation has not been determined. The nearest estimate that can be made at present is that the erosion took place between the close of the middle Pliocene and the early part of the Pleistocene. The erosion during this period may have removed most of the Ogallala formation between Point of Rocks in Morton County and Crooked Creek in Meade County.

In late Pliocene or early Pleistocene the deposits that comprise the Rexroad. (?) formation were laid down over all of Seward County and adjacent areas. These beds consist of sand and gravel at the base and silt, sand, clay, and caliche in the upper part. These beds are unconformably overlain by the lithologically similar deposits of the Meade formation and were deposited primarily by streams flowing eastward from the Rocky Mountains.

Quaternary period--Near the end of the Tertiary period or in the early part of the Quaternary period (after the deposition of the Rexroad (?) beds) there was folding and faulting in parts of southwestern Kansas. This period of erosion and deformation produced the major faulting in the Meade Basin in Meade County (Frye and Hibbard, 19~1), and is represented by the unconformity between the Meade and Rexroad formations. The period was followed by the deposition of the stream-laid silt, sand, and gravel comprising the Meade formation.

During late Pleistocene time, aggrading streams flowing at the upland level spread fine sand and silt over their flood plains. These sediments, which comprise a part of the Kingsdown silt, probably were laid down over all of Seward County. Subsequent erosion removed much of the water-laid part of the Kingsdown silt from the southern part of the county. Deposits of loess were laid down over part of Seward County in late Pleistocene or Recent time and comprise the uppermost part of the Kingsdown silt.

During late Pleistocene and Recent time the high terrace deposits of Cimarron River were laid down, the valley was deepened nearly to its present level, and the alluvium was deposited. More recently (since 1914) the channel of Cimarron River has widened greatly throughout its course in Seward County. The widening has destroyed much bottom land and has caused accelerated erosion in many of the small tributaries in this area.

Other events in Recent time included the deposition of dune sand over large areas along Cimarron River, the deposition of colluvium in Cimarron Valley, and the formation of sink holes in many places in the upland areas.

As mentioned in describing the topography, there seem to have been three generations of dunes formed primarily during Recent time, perhaps related to cyclical climatic changes. The three types of dunes seem to be autochthonous in origin--that is, their distribution and form are evidence that they were shaped from loose sands in their present immediate vicinities. There is no indication of the sand having been derived from the present valley of the Cimarron. The "windows" between dune areas (as in secs. 4, 5, 6, 8, 9,etc., T. 35 S., R. 34 W.) seem to contradict the possibility that the sand was moved by the wind from some more-or-less remote external region.

A fourth type of sand dune, unrelated to the upland types, is found in the Cimarron Valley and represents wind-concentrated sand of alluvial origin. Such dunes are small and are much more abundant in the northwestern half of the valley than they are in the southeastern half. In one place (secs. 3, 4, 9, and 10, T. 31 5., R. 34 W.) there is evidence that some dunes that originated in the valley have since migrated northeastward and upward onto the upland surface.

During much of Pliocene, Pleistocene, and Recent time, there was major or subsidence along Cimarron River in southeastern Seward and southern Meade Counties. It is believed that the course of Cimarron River from southeastern Seward County to the Ashland Basin in Clark County has been determined largely by solution and collapse. Much of the structure of the Laverne strata has been caused by subsidence in the area of outcrops of that formation. The overlying Rexroad (?) formation has also been strongly tilted in several places in southwestern Meade County. In both Meade and Seward Counties the Meade formation in several places dips toward Cimarron River. In southwestern Meade County a large block containing deposits of the Meade formation has dropped to stream level which is nearly 200 feet below its original position. As indicated by the above, the subsidence has been either continuous or recurrent since the deposition of the Laverne formation.

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Kansas Geological Survey, Geohydrology
Web version Sept. 2001. Original publication date March 1948.
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