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Salina Basin Stratigraphy and Structure

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Stratigraphy and Structural Development of the Salina Basin Area

by Wallace Lee

Cover of the book; gray paper, black text.

Originally published in 1956 as Kansas Geological Survey Bulletin 121. This is, in general, the original text as published. The information has not been updated. An Acrobat PDF version (37 MB) is also available; plates available separately.


This report describes the stratigraphy and structural history of the Salina basin in Kansas and adjoining areas. The stratigraphic descriptions are based on microscopic examination of samples from wells. The rocks of the area range in age from Precambrian to Quaternary, but many hiatuses make the record incomplete.


The Precambrian rocks consist of red granite or granitic gneiss.

The Upper Cambrian Series is represented by the Lamotte sandstone and the Bonneterre dolomite. The Lamotte sandstone is essentially the equivalent of the Reagan sandstone of Oklahoma. The Lamotte is absent in parts of the Salina basin area but is locally as much as 60 feet thick. It grades upward into noncherty slightly sandy glauconitic Bonneterre dolomite, which reaches a thickness of about 200 feet.

The Lower Ordovician Series is represented in central Kansas only by the Roubidoux, Jefferson City, and Cotter formations and the St. Peter sandstone. The Roubidoux, which overlies the Bonneterre unconformably, is widely distributed but is absent on the crest of the Southeast Nebraska arch and parts of the Central Kansas uplift. In the Salina basin the Roubidoux consists of sandy and slightly cherty dolomite averaging about 140 feet thick. The undivided Jefferson City-Cotter sequence, which is composed of cherty and sandy dolomite, thin beds of sandstone, and shale, has a thickness of about 300 feet. The St. Peter sandstone, which is a part of the Simpson group, is mainly friable sandstone of rounded and subrounded grains but includes some green shale. It is unconformable on all the older rocks. Where the overlying rocks are conformable on the St. Peter its thickness ranges from 12 to 80 feet.

The Middle and Upper Ordovician rocks of the Salina basin are the Platteville formation, the Viola limestone (Kimmswick limestone of Missouri), and the Maquoketa shale (Sylvan shale of Oklahoma). The Platteville and the St. Peter are partial correlatives of the Simpson group of Oklahoma. The Platteville consists of limestone and shale, and thickens northeastward from a featheredge to more than 100 feet at the Nebraska border. The Viola, which consists of dolomite and limestone banded with spicular chert, has a thickness of 295 feet near the Nebraska line but thins southward. The Maquoketa consists of silty dolomitic shale, parts of which grade locally into cherty shale and argillaceous and cherty dolomite. It is disconformable on the Viola and its thickness ranges from 30 to 143 feet.

Silurian rocks consist mainly of coarsely sucrose and granular dolomite, divisible into five zones. The basal dolomites are generally oolitic. Thickness of the Silurian rocks ranges from a featheredge in the south, where the Silurian was beveled by pre-Devonian erosion, to 445 feet near the Nebraska border.

Devonian rocks are composed mainly of dolomite, but in the southwestern part of the area limestone is included. In Lyons County, the Devonian rocks thicken in a valley eroded in the pre-Devonian outcrop of the Maquoketa shale. The Devonian overlaps southward across the truncated margins of Silurian to upper Arbuckle beds, but hills as much as 80 feet high stood above the general level of the surface. In most areas, the upper surface of the Devonian rocks was beveled by pre-Chattanooga erosion, but in McPherson County and adjoining counties broad open valleys about 150 feet deep dissected the Devonian rocks and cut into older formations. Because of the unconformities at the top and bottom of the Devonian, its thickness is irregular, increasing from a featheredge at its margin in the southern part of the area to 213 feet in the north.

The Chattanooga shale and the Boice shale, which lie between Devonian and Mississippian limestones, are of uncertain age. The Chattanooga includes the basal Misener sandstone, a sandy shale in most areas. It filled the McPherson and tributary valleys, where its thickness locally exceeds 250 feet. In the tributary valley in Reno and Rice counties the Chattanooga shale includes a lentil of slightly argillaceous gray limestone having a maximum thickness of 80 feet. Except where it filled such valleys, the Chattanooga overlies a beveled surface and toward the south overlaps in succession upon Devonian to Arbuckle rocks. East of the Nemaha anticline its thickness increases from 50 feet in the southwestern corner of the area to more than 250 feet in the northeastern corner. The Boice shale, which unconformably overlies the Chattanooga, is of variable thickness. Its base is characterized by red shale or ferruginous oolites.

The Mississippian limestones of the Salina basin consist, in ascending order, of the upper member of the Sedalia dolomite and the Gilmore City limestone of Kinderhookian age; the St. Joe, Reeds Springs, Burlington, and Keokuk limestones of Osagian age; and the "Warsaw" and Spergen limestones of Meramecian age. Most of these formations are separated from each other by disconformities. Because of post-Mississippian erosion the Mississippian formations in north-central Kansas are confined to the Salina basin, although most of them were originally more widespread.

The thickness of the Mississippian rocks as a whole is closely related to structural features. In the deepest part of the Salina basin these rocks are 350 feet thick, but on the margin of the basin, as well as on the crests of local anticlines, the uppermost Mississippian formations were beveled or removed by pre-Pennsylvanian erosion.

The rocks of Pennsylvanian and Permian age consist of numerous cyclothems, alternating sequences of limestone, marine and nonmarine shales, and sandstone. Each sequence was deposited during a depositional cycle that included an advance and retreat of the sea. If a period of emergence was long, the deposits of the previous cycle of deposition were locally dissected and in certain areas completely removed.

The Cherokee shale, of Desmoinesian Pennsylvanian age, consists mainly of alternating beds of shale and sandstone interstratified with coal and thin limestone. The limestones are discontinuous, either because of local deposition or intercyclical erosion. The Cherokee is about 240 feet thick in the center of the Salina basin but is absent because of nondeposition on the Central Kansas uplift and the northern end of the Nemaha anticline. The Marmaton group, the next higher unit, consists of alternating limestone and shale formations, which are not sharply differentiated from each other in the subsurface. The group is about 130 feet thick in the Salina basin.

Missourian rocks, constituting the lower part of the Upper Pennsylvanian, are separated from Desmoinesian formations by an unconformity that is marked by channeling and a faunal change. Missourian rocks are represented in the Salina basin by the Pleasanton, Kansas City, and Lansing groups. The Pleasanton consists of less than 25 feet of shale. The Kansas City and Lansing groups are chiefly limestone and interbedded shale deposited in cyclical succession. The combined thickness of these two groups is 285 feet in the deepest part of the Salina basin. In some areas, the cyclical oscillation raised the rocks enough above sea level for long enough time for erosion to develop considerable topographic relief. Most such broad open valleys and minor depressions of the surface were filled and leveled off by the initial clastic deposits of the succeeding cycle.

The Virgilian rocks, which are separated from the Missourian by an important unconformity, consist of the Douglas, Shawnee, and Wabaunsee groups. In the Salina basin the Douglas group consists of shale less than 25 feet thick. The Shawnee group resembles the Kansas City and Lansing groups in the cyclical deposition of limestone and shale beds. In the Salina basin, which at this time had become a structural embayment, the thickness of the Shawnee group is 244 feet in the northern part, increasing toward the southeast. The Wabaunsee group consists mainly of shale with many thin interbedded limestone beds. In some parts of Kansas, it has a wide range of thickness because of local channeling during the hiatus between the deposition of Pennsylvanian and deposition of Permian rocks, but no indication of channeling was recognized in the Salina basin area, where the Wabaunsee is about 350 feet thick.

The Wolfcampian Series, at the base of the Permian, consists of the Admire, Council Grove, and Chase groups. The contact of the Permian and Pennsylvanian rocks in the Salina basin area seems to be a mature erosional surface. The Admire lithologically resembles the underlying Wabaunsee group and is about 90 feet thick. The Council Grove group consists of alternating limestone and shale formations in about equal proportions. Much of the shale is red, and much of the limestone is impure and shaly. The group is about 300 feet thick. The Chase consists of about equal proportions of shale and more or less cherty limestone. It is 250 feet thick.

The Leonardian Series, which overlies the Wolfcampian, consists of the Sumner and Nippewalla groups. The Sumner group includes the Wellington shale, which consists mainly of gray shale interstratified with beds and laminae of anhydrite, and the Hutchinson salt member near the middle of the formation; the Ninnescah red sandy shale; and the Stone Corral dolomite and anhydrite. The salt member is present only in the southwestern part of the area. The salt beds become plastic under pressure and tend to flow toward anticlinal areas. The local thickening of the salt exaggerates the structural relief of anticlines in beds above the salt. The thickness of the Sumner group varies sharply with the thickness of the salt. The Sumner group is represented only in the western counties of the area, where its average thickness is about 650 feet in areas not underlain by salt. The thickness increases to more than 1,200 feet in the southern part of the area, where both salt and shale beds thicken.

Rocks of Cretaceous age have an aggregate thickness of more than 1,000 feet on the western border of the Salina basin area. They include the Cheyenne sandstone and Kiowa shale of the Comanchean Series, and the Dakota formation, Graneros shale, Greenhorn limestone, Carlile shale, and Niobrara chalk of the Gulfian Series.

The Tertiary and Quaternary Systems are represented by alluvial deposits in ancient valleys and on high-level benches. In the northeastern part of the area, glacial till and loess occur in upland areas. These deposits are more than 150 feet thick at some places and in large areas conceal the underlying consolidated rocks of Cretaceous, Permian, and earlier age.

Structural development

Study of the structural development of the Salina basin and adjacent areas has been carried on by preparation of thickness maps and stratigraphic cross sections.

Five periods of regional warpings are distinguished.

  1. Arbuckle dolomites were deformed and beveled by erosion before the deposition of the overlying St. Peter sandstone. A synclinal basin, in which Arbuckle rocks more than 2,000 feet thick were deposited, was developed in central and eastern Missouri. This basin was flanked on the west by the Southeast Nebraska arch, an anticline that was beveled to Precambrian granite before the deposition of the St. Peter sandstone. A broad syncline trending northwest across a part of the area that later became the Central Kansas uplift was contemporaneously developed southwest of the Southeast Nebraska arch.
  2. A conflicting pattern of regional warping that developed between St. Peter and Mississippian time transformed the Ozark basin into the Ozark uplift, and the Southeast Nebraska arch into the North Kansas basin, which subsided 1,200 feet in the area mapped. The Chautauqua arch and the initial movements of the Central Kansas uplift and the Hugoton embayment were contemporary structural developments.
  3. A third period of deformation began early in Mississippian time, culminated at the end of Mississippian time, and continued with decreasing emphasis until middle Permian time. The most conspicuous structural feature of this period was the Nemaha anticline, which divided the older North Kansas basin, giving rise to the Forest City basin on the east and the Salina basin on the west. The Central Kansas uplift and the Hugoton embayment attained their maximum development during this period. Arching of the Central Kansas uplift ceased with the downwarping of the salt basin in Wellington time. The Chautauqua arch became inactive before Mississippian time.
  4. The records of subsequent structural events in eastern Kansas have been lost by erosion of significant formations. Surviving formations in western and central Kansas indicate that after Wellington time, when arching of the Central Kansas uplift ceased, the areas in which the Central Kansas uplift and the Salina basin had previously been developed were tilted toward the Hugoton embayment, greatly extending its northeastern limb.
  5. Details of post-Cretaceous deformation are obscure in eastern Kansas. Isopachous and structure maps in western Kansas reveal pre-Cretaceous and post-Cretaceous deformation, which tilted that region northward and northwestward toward the Denver basin (Lee and Merriam, 1954). In eastern Kansas the composite of these movements is expressed in the Salina basin by the northwestward tilting of surviving areas of the Dakota in the Salina basin and the general northwestward dip of the underlying Permian and Pennsylvanian rocks.

Each change in the pattern of structural movement altered the attitude of pre-existing anticlines as well as other regional structural features. Changes in the direction of dip shifted the position of the crest of some low anticlines and destroyed the closure in others. In consequence, the exposed crests of low anticlines in the younger rocks do not necessarily reveal accurately the position and configuration of those anticlines in older more steeply dipping rocks.

The repeated changes in the pattern of deformation and the repeated re-elevation and beveling of the formations must have influenced the migration and distribution of fluids in the rocks. Each structural movement, particularly those involving changes in the direction of dip, caused readjustments in the distribution of connate water. The movements of nascent gas and oil must also have been affected, and probably some earlier accumulations of oil and gas were dispersed up dip.

The maps show the areas in which well-known zones of production are absent, owing to erosion or to nondeposition. The areas in which potentially productive zones wedge out beneath beveled surfaces are at least theoretically favorable to the development of stratigraphic traps.

Available data from the thickness maps of this report suggest that northeasterly and northwesterly trending folds may be concealed by or only weakly revealed in the Cretaceous and Upper Permian rocks in the central and northern parts of the Salina basin.

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Kansas Geological Survey, Geology
Placed on web Jan. 5, 2017; originally published Dec. 1956.
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