Geomorphology of the Subsurface and
Surface for Cheyenne Bottoms

by Patrick Laird for ES 546 Field Geomorphology
at Emporia State University


Table of Contents
Abstract Introduction Theories for Basin Develop. Surface Landscape
Soils Conclusion/Discussion References


Abstract

Cheyenne Bottoms is a wetland located in central Barton County, Kansas.  As a wetland, it is a major stop for migratory birds in North America.  Cheyenne Bottoms is located in an alluvium filled basin with Cretaceous bedrock forming walls around most of the basin.  The debate about what formed the basin centers around four main theories.  The theories are:  salt dissolution, structural deformation, stream erosion, and wind erosion.  Though only the structural deformation theory comes close as the primary event that formed the basin, the other three theories should not be ruled out, as they play a part in forming the basin as well.  Wind erosion has formed dune sand to the east and north of Cheyenne Bottoms and loess separates the basin from the Arkansas River to the south.  Two streams feed water and sediment into the basin and have an odd structural pattern to them, which allows for the development of soil.  Only one stream drains Cheyenne Bottoms and the basin, and it is now manually controlled.

Introduction

A major North American wetland for migratory birds, the Cheyenne Bottoms wetland complex is located in Barton County, Kansas.  Cheyenne Bottoms is situated in a basin located southeast of Hoisington and northeast of Great Bend (figure 1).  The wetland covers just over 41,000 acres of which 7,300 acres are maintained by the Nature Conservancy.  The remaining acreage is maintained by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP) service (The Nature Conservancy, 2004).  The area maintained by the Conservancy is located directly northwest of the area maintained by the KDWP.
 
Figure 1.  This map of Barton County was produced to show the Cheyenne Bottoms study area, marked by the purple rectangle.  The study area is used in several images throughout the page.  The green polygon marks the part of Cheyenne Bottoms that is in the lowest part of the basin and is either submerged by water or marsh like conditions most of the year.  This map was generated in ArcView by P. Laird on 12/02/04.  Data sources for digital data are the NRCS Datagateway and Data Access and Support Center of Kansas (DASC).

The three main theories that surround the development of the basin are:  dissolution of salt, structural deformation, and stream erosion.  These three theories, along with the author's own theory on wind erosion, will briefly be discussed below to derive a conclusion as to the development of the basin.  Following the theories discussion, the surface landscape will be explored, with heavy emphasis on the soils located within the Cheyenne Bottoms wetland complex.

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Theories for Basin Development

Salt Dissolution
Salt dissolution is one theory that can be considered as to the development of the basin.  The Hutchinson salt member of the Wellington Formation is the only evaporite layer thick enough to support this theory (Bayne, 1977).  As Cheyenne Bottoms is continuously filled with water, it is possible that the dissolution of salt has occurred.  A basin is noticeable in the Hutchinson salt member directly below Cheyenne Bottoms (figure 2).
 
Figure 2.  This image shows a depression directly below Cheyenne Bottoms.  The image was brought into ArcView and georeferenced.  The blue line overlying the contour lines is the boundary of the Cheyenne Bottoms wetland.  Image created by P. Laird 12/4/04.  Image adapted from Bayne, 1977.

Sodium in the soil further supports the theory of salt dissolution.  The type of soil located within Cheyenne Bottoms is the Drummond Series (Bauer, 2004).  According to the National Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) Official Series Description, there is evidence of sodium in the soil (Drummond Series, 1998).  Several sinkholes located around the Reno County area due to dissolution and collapse associated with the Hutchinson salt member also support this theory.  However, Bayne, 1977, explains that the basin affects the geology above the Hutchinson salt member.  The theory of salt dissolution and collapse can be ruled out as the main factor for the basin formation, but not completely ruled out as a factor altogether.

Structural Deformation
Since the geology above the Hutchinson salt member is affected, some type of structural deformation must have created the basin (Bayne, 1977).  Geologic evidence shown by Bayne indicates that the basin was formed between the “early Late Cretaceous and latest Pliocene time,” after the formation of the Greenhorn Limestone.  This structural deformation was thought to have occurred just before the regional titling of the area.  Bayne also notes the appearance of a structurally low area on the Precambrian surface, though more data would be needed to confirm this feature.

Stream Erosion
During the early Pleistocene, Bayne indicates that a stream may have drained the northwestern part of Barton County and possibly the upper Smoky Hill River.  This stream appears to have eroded headward towards the Smoky Hill River and would have been located about the same place as Blood Creek.  This stream would have drained Cheyenne Bottoms and emptied into the Chase Channel in Rice County.  The Chase Channel is thought to have been present day Cow Creek and drained into the Arkansas River in Reno County (Bayne, 1977).  During this time, fine grained material was probably deposited in the Cheyenne Bottoms area.  Figure 3 indicates the ancient stream channel, the Chase Channel and the configuration of the bedrock surface.
 
Figure 3.  This image shows an ancient stream channel, marked in red.  The contour lines are based on surface bedrock and indicate a past stream channel.  The Chase Channel is marked by the heavy blue line on the right.  Image created by P. Laird 12/2/04.  Image adapted from Bayne, 1977.

Wind Erosion
In the author's opinion, wind erosion of the alluvium occurred during the Pleistocene as well and is also a theory on the development of the basin.  Though not the driving force that created the basin, it has played a part in shaping the basin.  Sand dunes are located to the northeast of the Cheyenne Bottoms complex.  These dunes were created during the Pleistocene, probably as a result of wind blown sand.  The Prevailing Westerlies, wind blowing from the southwest to the northeast, probably blew alluvium out of the Arkansas River and Cheyenne Bottoms area, see figure 4, based on the location of the sand dunes.
 
Figure 4.  This map shows the sand dunes that are situated to the northeast of Cheyenne Bottoms.  Data sources for digital data are the NRCS Datagateway and Data Access and Support Center of Kansas (DASC) .

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Surface Landscape

The surface landscape shows that Cheyenne Bottoms is situated over a basin in this Digital Elevation Model (DEM) shown in figure 5.  Cheyenne Bottoms is just a small fraction of the entire basin and the water within it sits at a lower elevation than the rest of the basin. The basin itself is flat and is composed of Quaternary alluvium.  Basin walls along the south, west and north consist of the Dakota Formation.  The walls of the basin directly to the east are dune sand, which, as mentioned above are a result of wind blown alluvium from both the basin and the Arkansas River Channel.  The basin wall to the southeast is Quaternary loess, which separates the basin from the Arkansas River Channel.
 
Figure 5.  This DEM illustrates the flat basin and the walls that surround it.  The Arkansas River and various streams are shown and labeled.  The water in Cheyenne Bottoms is situated to the southwest of the basin.  Image processed in ArcScene by P. Laird 9/29/04.  Data source for the National Elevation Dataset (NED) is DASC.  Vertical exaggeration is 35.
Figure 6.  This is a surficial geology map of the Cheyenne Bottoms study area as outlined in figure 1.  This map was processed in ArcView with data obtained from DASC by P. Laird 10/14/04.

Blood Creek and Deception Creek both enter the basin from the northwest and are the two main sources of water drainage into the basin.  As noticed in figure 5, both creeks do not have a distinguished channel once they enter the basin.  As both of the creeks empty their water into the basin, they also empty sediment, which helps build the soils mentioned in the next section.  A couple of minor creeks empty into the basin during times of heavy precipitation.  Only one outlet from the basin exists, the Little Cheyenne Creek.  This creek, which flows into Cow Creek near the eastern county line, is now set with gates to control the outflow from Cheyenne Bottoms.  Drainage ditches and canals have also been installed to control water within Cheyenne Bottoms (figure 7).
 
Figure 7.  This image shows Blood Creek entering from the northwest and the Little Cheyenne Creek exiting from the southeast.  The area marked inside the dark blue line consists of the Drummond soil series.  The area outside the dark blue line is the Tabler soil series.  It is important to note that the Drummond and Tabler soils may vary spatially and are not confined to the boundaries indicated in this image.  Light blue colored hash lines indicated ditches and canals.  Blood Creek is in the upper left corner and the Little Cheyenne Creek is in the lower right corner.  Image created using a 2003 color aerial photo from the National Agriculture Imagery Program (NAIP).  Stream data was obtained from TIGER data.  Image created 11/2//04 by P. Laird. 

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Soils

Drummond Series
There are two types of soils within the Cheyenne Bottoms wetland complex, Alfisols and Mollisols (Bauer, 2004).  The Drummond series is located in the lowest part of the basin where water collects.  The Drummond series consists of "deep, somewhat poorly drained, very slowly permeable soils that formed in material weathered from loamy and clayey alluvium predominantly from the Permian redbeds" (Drummond Series, 1998).  The Drummond series is classified as an Alfisol with a possible natric horizon as they contain excess salts and sodium in the subsoil (Soil Survey, 1979).
 
Figure 8.  This is a soil association map for the Cheyenne Bottoms study area.  Associations are by series and the Drummond series is covered by water in this map.  SSURGO 1 was used from the USDA Soil Data Mart.  Map created 10/14/04 by P. Laird.

The taxonomic class of the Drummond series is a fine, mixed, superactive, thermic Mollic Natrustalf.  A break down of the taxonomic class is listed below.  In most cases, the actual taxonomic class differs from the soil series listed on the Official Series Description (OSD).  The author has included instances where part of the class can be changed based on visual or other characteristics of the soil.  More analysis of the soil needs to be done in order to correctly identify the soil.  Sections of the taxonomic class are defined from the ninth edition of Keys to Soil Taxonomy compiled by the USDA and NRCS, unless otherwise noted.

Figure 9.  This is an image of a soil profile for the Drummond series in Cheyenne Bottoms.  Three characteristics indicate the Drummond series.   The color of the A horizon is grayish brown.  They wavy boundary between the A and B horizons, marked in yellow.  The color of the B horizon is dark brown.  Though indicated in the OSD as having a Mollic subgroup, the author tends to think this particular soil could have a Vertic subrougp instead.  The dark linear features marked by the blue arrows are the basis for this thought.  These features could be a result of organic matter falling through cracks at the surface during dry conditions.  More analysis at the site needs to be completed to accurately describe this soil.  Photo by J. Aber, 2004.

Tabler Series
The second type of soil found in Cheyenne Bottoms is the Tabler series.  This soil type can be found on the upper part of the drained basin.  The Tabler series consists of "very deep, moderately well drained, very slowly permeable soils that formed in calcareous loamy or clayey alluvial sediments" (Tabler Series, 2004).  The Tabler series is classified as a Mollisol.  The taxonomic class of the Tabler series is Fine, smectitic, thermic Udertic Argiustoll.  A break down of the taxonomic class is listed below.  In most cases, the actual taxonomic class differs from the soil series listed on the OSD.  The author has included instances where part of the class can be changed based on visual or other characteristics of the soil.  More analysis of the soil needs to be done in order to correctly identify the soil.  Sections of the taxonomic class are defined from the ninth edition of Keys to Soil Taxonomy compiled by the USDA and NRCS, unless otherwise noted.

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Conclusion/Discussion

There is no direct conclusion as to the origin of the basin under Cheyenne Bottoms.  From the theories mentioned above, the structural deformation seems to be the logical origin, but whether it happened during the Precambrian or the Cretaceous, seems uncertain.  Due to the sodium and salts located within the soil, salt dissolution appears to be occurring.  Evidence indicates stream erosion in the area of Cheyenne Bottoms and after the stream changed course, wind erosion scoured the area, moving alluvium to the northeast, where dune sand is located.  One thing does seem certain though, each of these events has played a part in the formation of the basin.

Dune sand seems to be just one of the landscape features as a result of the basin.  The unusualness of the two creeks entering Cheyenne Bottoms is worth noting because they lack a clear cut channel once inside the basin.  Sediments brought in by these two creeks help form the two main types soils.  Water that drains into the basin clearly ponds in the lowest part of it.  Aided by the help of manmade features, the water level can be raised or drained, which can also have an impact on the soils in Cheyenne Bottoms.

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References

Bauer, Greg.  2004.  Phone communiqué.  Barton County Soil Conservation Office.  Great Bend, Kansas.

Bayne, Charles K.  1977.  Geology and Structure of Cheyenne Bottoms: Barton County, Kansas.  Kansas Geologic Society.  Bulletin 211, Part 2.  p 1-11

Brady, Nyle C. and Weil, Ray R.  2004.  Elements of the Nature and Properties of Soils, 2nd ed.  Prentice Hall, New Jersey. p 63, p 590

Drummond Series.  1998.  National Resources Conservation Services/Official Series Description.  URL retrieved November 8, 2004.  URL:  http://ortho.ftw.nrcs.usda.gov/cgi-bin/osd/osdname.cgi

Keys to Soil Taxonomy, Ninth Edition.  United States Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources Conservation Services.   2003.  p 37-306

Soil Survey of Barton County, Kansas.  United Sates Department of Agriculture, Soil Conservation Service.  1981.  p 63

Tabler Series.  2004.  National Resources Conservation Services/Official Series Description.  URL retrieved November 8, 2004.  URL:  http://ortho.ftw.nrcs.usda.gov/cgi-bin/osd/osdname.cgi

The Nature Conservancy.  About The Nature Conservancy Preserve at Cheyenne Bottoms.  URL retrieved December 10, 2004.  URL:  http://www.cheyennebottoms.net/about_tnc.html

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This webpage was designed to fulfill the requirements of ES 546 Field Geomorphology at Emporia State University.
Created by Patrick Laird December 1, 2004.  Last updated December 12, 2004.