Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in Kansas


Stephanie Beardslee and Brandon Milner

This webpage project was created for a field geomorphology course in the 2009 fall semester at Emporia State University.

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This image is a false-color composite from (USGS, 2009) and modified by (Milner, 2009). This shows the two study sites. Bright areas of red show agricultural land use while a darker red shows the natural vegetation of the area.

The Quivira National Refuge is located in Stafford county in central Kansas. This area was created within the last 100,000 years by natural processes. The refuge is an important area for wildlife and hunting activities. This area includes two different salt marshes with them respectly being named Big and Little Salt Marsh. Quivira National Refuge is located in the Arkansas River Lowlands physiographic region.

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This photo is from (KGS, 1997) and modified by (Milner, 2009). The area of interest is emphasized by the black rectangle that is outlining the Arkansas River Lowland Region. The Quivira National Wildlife Refuge is located about at the word river.

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General Geomorphology

Geomorphic Processes- Quivira National Wildlife Refuge is made up of two different salt marshes. The main processes involved in forming this area in the past are eolian and hydrologic processes. Sand dunes are a prominent feature in this region that were formed by eolian processes. Most of the sand dunes in the area form a parabolic shape. These eolian processes occurred within the last 100,000 years. This area was carved out by erosional processes such as wind and water which dug out a basin that then filled with water. Water filled the basin from Rattlesnake Creek and from underground water movement. Current processes going on this area would include the breakdown of salt-bearing rocks to to increase the salinity of the marshes. The Quivira National Wildlife Refuge was created primarily by erosional processes mainly eolian forces.

Climatic factors in this region range from a drier climate and alternting between years of moist and dry seasons. Past processes may have been even drier where eolian forces could have carved a basin out from moving the sand and relocating. Over the years, vegetation has grown on the sand dunes and water has filled the basin. The surface features were because of eolian force, and the subsurface is because of hydrologic forces. An underground aquifer is part of the reason why salt from the subsurface is mixing with freshwater and flowing into the marshes. Human activites have altered how water flows between the two marshes. Canals have been built from the Little Salt Marsh connecting to the Big Salt Marsh. This is the main inflow source of water for the Big Salt Marsh.

This image is from (KGS, 2000). The black arrows indicate the longitudinal sand dunes seen to the east of Big Salt Marsh.

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Geologic Setting

The Quivira National Wildlife Refuge is underlined by Cretaceous basement rock with alluvium on top. Most of the alluvium on top is there from eolian processes that brought in sand deposits. Other sediments are from lacustrine deposits. The age of the eolian deposits of sand are from the Plestocene (2.5 mya.)to about 10,000 years ago. There was an outcrop of Dakota Sandstone seen on a ridge in this area.

Typical Soils- The main soil or particulates found in this area is fine sand found in sand dunes and is less than 1 mm in size.

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Drainage Patterns

Modern Drainage

The input for the salt marshes is from Rattlesnake creek that runs directly into Little Salt Marsh. The output drainage for this area is poor and most of the water disappearing from the marshes is through evaporation or seeping through the pourous sand to the east of the lakes. There is a small structure that has been built to the east of the Little Salt Marsh to promote drainage. Canals move some water from Little Salt Marsh northward to Big Salt Marsh. Most runoff runs directly into Quivira National Refuge as the refuge is contained with a basin. Most water will seep or move through springs to another part of the reserve.

Photo is from (Beckemeyer, 2001). Photo shows the drainage pattern going into the Salt Marshes with Rattlesnake Creek being the main inflow source.


The salinity of the marshes at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge are due to natural saltwater occurring in the bedrock in the area. The salt layers appear in the Cedar Hill Sandstone in the lower Permian formation. Evaporation of shallow seas covering Kansas for most of the Permian led to the deposition of these salt layers. It is important to note that the high salinity of the marshes is caused by the release of natural saline from salty aquifers near the area, not from the Hutchison area salt.

The Big and Little salt marshes at Quivira, surrounded by sand dunes, are frequent sites for ground water to move up toward the surface and cause a convergence of freshwater and saltwater from the aquifers. The Cedar Hill Sandstone aquifer is recharged in southwest Kansas and the water is carried toward the east. As the water moves, it increases in salinity until it reaches the surface and flows into a freshwater aquifer just west of the Quivira marshes. Underneath this area, there is a north-south trending ridge of Permian bedrock that keeps the groundwater from moving further to the east and entering the Arkansas River. The ridge also causes the saltwater to empty into the marshes and low-lying streams in the area.

Evaporation is another reason that salt concentrations are even higher at the surface. Little Salt Marsh has a concentration of chloride of 2,500 ppm, whereas Big Salt Marsh has a concentration varying from 5,000 ppm to 10,000 ppm. (Ocean water has a concentration of chloride of 19,000 ppm). The complete evaporation of shallow lakes in some areas near the marshes is what has lead to the formation of the white salt flats. -

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General Climate,Vegetation, and Human Use of Area

Climate -The general climate of the area is considered subhumid with moderate precipitation normally ranging from 24-26 inches annually. The average annual temperature for the area is typically around 57 degrees Fahrenheit, but temperature varies substantially throughout the year and sudden changes in weather are not uncommon.

Vegetation -The vegetation surrounding the area of the Quivera National Wildlife Refuge is a mixture of tallgrass and short-grass prairie. Given the salinity of the marshes, the type of vegetation growth depends on the species ability to withstand salty conditions. Cattails, reed grass, and bullrush are the dominate species in the southern marshes that have lower salinity. The northern marshes have the highest salinity and contain vegetaion able to withstand the extreme conditions. This vegetation include inland saltgrass and other halophytes. As a result of the salt flats in the area, vegetation is scarce in the northern most section of the Big Salt Marsh.

Land Use -The main land use in this region is for crops, Conservation Reserve Program land and grazing of livestock. The area in study is a wetland that is an natural environment for wildlife. Quivira is a prominent migration area for more than 500,000 birds including several endangered species. This aspect make Quivera appeal to both bird watchers and hunters.

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Quivira National Wildlife Refuge was formed due to multiple geologic processes. Eolian processes combined with dry climatic conditions eroded the landscape. The sand from the eroded basin was moved eastward by eolian forces. Sand dunes were formed when the sand was deposited from the basin. Water filled in the basin by two inflow sources. The first was from Rattlesnake Creek flowing into Little Salt Marsh and then dispersing into Big Salt Marsh. The second was the flow of water from Cedar Hill Sandstone Aquifer. As the water was moving eastward toward Little Salt Marsh, a dissolution of saltwater was formed. This is why the marshes have the salinity that is measured during the present day. The sand dunes have gone through signficant changes since they were originally formed. The climate today is a wetter climate which caused the dunes in the present day to be covered with vegetation and are more difficult to identify. Today, the land is mainly used for crop production, CRP, and grazing of livestock.


Beckemeyer, R. 2001. Odonata of Quivira National Wildlife Refuge - Stafford County, Kansas. Winds of Kansas. href="http://www.windsofkansas.com/quivira.html Accessed November 12, 2009

Driessen, M. 2003. Geology. Emporia State University. http://www.emporia.edu/earthsci/student/bubna1/geology.htm Accessed November 12, 2009

Kansas Geological Survey, 1997. Physiographic Map of Kansashttp://www.kgs.ku.edu/Physio/physio.html, Accessed November 12, 2009

Kansas Geological Survey, 2000. Stafford County Geologic Map.http://www.kgs.ku.edu/General/Geology/County/rs/stafford.html Accessed November 12, 2009

Kansas Geological Survey, 2002. Salt in Kansas.http://www.kgs.ku.edu/Publications/pic21/pic21_1.html Accessed December 4, 2009.

Kansas Geological Survey 2002. Why are the Quivira Marshes so Salty?http://www.kgs.ku.edu/Publications/pic21/Quivira.html, Accessed November 12, 2009

Kansas Geological Survey, 2005. Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. http://www.kgs.ku.edu/Extension/KSplaces/visit13.html Accessed November 12, 2009

Kansas Water Office, 2009. Lower Arkansas River Basin http://www.kwo.org/Kansas%20Water%20Plan/SWP/KWP_2008/Vol_III_Docs/LARK/Rpt_LARK_Basin_Description_KWP2009.pdf, Accessed October 29th, 2009.

USGS, 2009. Eros Landsat Imagery Earth Explorer.http://edcsns17.cr.usgs.gov/EarthExplorer Accessed November 12, 2009

Wetland and Wildlife National Scenic Byway, 2008. kansaswetlandsandwildlifescenicbyway.com/index.php Accessed October 29th, 2009.

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For more information email milner_brandon@emporia.edu.

This webpage was created on December 11th, 2009.

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