Glaciated Region

Glaciated Region

Kim Woodbury
Fall 2007
ES 546 Geomorphology Project

General Geomorphic Conditions Drainage Climate Vegetation Human Land Use ReferencesES 546 Homepage


The northeast portion of Kansas was covered by at least two glaciers between 600 thousand and one million years ago. This glaciation is known as the Independence glaciation, which can be broken down into two major advances and retreats, which are referred to as the early and late Independence glaciation (Aber, 2006). The underlying bedrock of the region is classified as Pennsylvanian and comprised of limestone and shale (Glaciated Region-Introduction, 2005). Permian and Cretaceous bedrock are also found toward the western edge of the region (Aber, 2006).

The Glaciated region of Kansas today bares little evidence of the presence of glaciers due to erosion. The evidence that remains is generally from the late Independence glaciation and includes erratics, losses, as well as remnants of a pro-glacial lake (Aber, 2006). The drainage of this region is perennial and features large rivers (Aber, 2006). The climate is semiarid, and the human land use of the region is a mix of urban and agricultural areas.

Geologic Regions of Kansas

Taken from GeoKansas web site:

General Geomorphic Conditions

The Independence ice sheet encroached upon modern day Kansas in the interval between 610,000 and 780,000 years ago, making it one of the oldest Pleistocene glaciations (Aber, 2005). Today much of the sediment deposited by the glaciations of Kansas has been buried under younger alluvial deposits and loess. However, evidence of these glaciations can still be seen today in features created by glacial erosion, deformations, and depositions (Aber, 2006).

The glaciations of northeastern Kansas can be broken down into two major advances and retreats. The first is known as the early Independence, and the second is known as the late Independence. Both glaciations deposited tills, which are sediment deposits that include everything a glacier moves over such as clay, silt, sand, gravel, and boulders, even plants and animals (Aber, 2005). Both glaciations deposited stony, clay-rich tills. The early Independence ice sheet entered Kansas as a single ice lobe, named the Minnesota lobe (Aber 2005). The lobe deposited a dark grey till that contained fragments of spruce wood (Aber, 2006). This till does not contain needles or pine cones suggesting the ice sheet plowed over a forest which was dead prior to the advancing ice sheet (Aber, 2006).

The late Independence ice sheet advanced as two ice lobes known as the Dakota lobe and the Minnesota lobe (Aber, 2005). These lobes deposited a dark brown till and many erratics (Aber, 2006). Virtually all erratics seen on the surface today were deposited by the late Independence ice sheet (Aber, 2006). These erratics were transported from northen areas including Canada, Minnesota, and South Dakota. Some examples of these erratics are:

a granite boulder from northern Minnesota or Canada, collected in Marshall County (Creager, 2001), picture taken from
a quartzite conglomerate boulder from the Sioux Quartzite bedrock of southwestern Minnesota or southeastern South Dakota, collected in Wabaunsee County (Creager, 2001), picture from
a boulder of greenstone from the northern shield of northern Minnesota or Canada, collected in Marshall County (Creager, 2001), picture from
a boulder of volcanic rock made up of a green matrix of large quartz crystals from northern Minnesota collected in Marshall County (Creager, 2001), picture from

Large Quartzite Boulder, Marshall County

Taken from GeoKansas web site:

As the early and late Independence ice sheets advanced and retreated, they pulverized rocks and sediments. This process created a fine-grained silt. Melt waters from the glaciers carried this silt and deposited it in river valleys. Prevailing winds produced from low pressure systems to the north above the glaciers were strong enough to move large amounts of silts. This wind blown dust is known as loess (Aber, 2006). This has resulted in loess hills as high as 350 feet above the floodplain of the Missouri River (Glaciated Region-Introduction, 2005).

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Loess hills, Doniphan County

Taken from GeoKansas web site:


The Glaciated regions' drainage is perennial and features large rivers (Aber, 2006). The majority of streams and rivers flow south into the Kansas River, with the exception of the Nemaha River which flows north into Nebraska. The Kansas River flows into the Missouri River at the border between Kansas and Missouri. The area also has several man made reservoirs and natural lakes.

Though large rivers are abundant, the availability of ground water in the region yields on average less than 100 gallons of water per minute (General Availability of Ground Water and Normal Annual Precipitation in Kansas, 2007). There are pockets in the northern counties that yield 100 to 500 gallons of water per minute (General Availability of Ground Water and Normal Annual Precipitation in Kansas, 2007). These pockets are a direct effect of the glaciation of Kansas. The drainage of northeast Kansas preceding the glaciation was a valley that flowed to the east towards present day St. Joseph, Missouri (Aber, 2005). As the early Independence ice sheet encroached upon northern Kansas, they blocked the outlet of this valley and created new drainage at the margins of the glacier (Aber, 2005). With its outlet blocked by the glacier, the valley filled with water creating Lake Atchison (Aber, 2005). The valley subsequently filled with lake sediments and glacial deposits (Aber, 2005). The present day pockets which possess a higher yield of ground water, are remnants of this buried pre-glacial valley.

Because the main outlet of the valley was blocked by the glacier, Lake Atchison eventually overflowed its banks (Aber, 2005). This major flooding caused spillways to erode. These spillways have become the origins of the major river valleys seen today, including the Big Blue River valley and the Missouri River valley south of Leavenworth (Aber, 2005).

The late Independence ice sheets advanced farther south than its predecessor and also encroached on major river valleys, effectively blocking the outlets (Aber, 2005). This again caused glacial lakes to dam, fill, overflow, and cause major and catastrophic flooding. This flooding carved out new spillways which ran parallel to the Kansas and Missouri river valleys (Aber, 2005). Mill Creek and Wakarusa River valleys are examples of two of these spillways (Aber, 2005). Large boulder beds in the vicinity of these valleys testify to the great volume of water that was needed to move them. (Aber, 2006)

The glaciers have also had an impact on the shape of the Kansas River we see today. The river displays a unique pattern of variations of width. In some places the river is miles wider than the narrow spots (Aber, 2005). These wider areas are produced when the Kansas River crosses the pre-glacial river valleys (Aber, 2005). In the areas that border the Kansas River, ground water availability can be greater than 500 gallons of water per minute (General Availability of Ground Water and Normal Annual Precipitation in Kansas, 2007). This is due of course to the large volumes of water transported by the Kansas River.

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Lake Jayhawk, Jefferson County

Taken from Gallery of Kite and Blimp Aerial Photographs by James S. and Susan W. Aber web site:


The Kansas climate is continental, relatively sunny, and experiences great extremes between summer and winter temperatures. The annual mean temperature is 50.0 degrees Fahrenheit (Flora, 2007). The longest and most complete temperature records have been recorded in Manhattan, Kansas. The average temperature from 1900-1999 for the month of January was approximately 28.8 degrees Fahrenheit, and the average temperature for the month of July is approximately 79.9 degrees Fahrenheit (Aber, 2004). The Glaciated region experiences an average of 145 days of sunshine and 94 days that are classified as cloudy (Flora, 2007).

Precipitation varies across the state. The south eastern region of Kansas receives the most rainfall at just over 40 inches yearly (Flora, 2007). The northeast receives an annual average of 30 inches (Flora, 2007). The precipitation decreases in a uniform fashion in gradients to the west, with the furthest west regions receiving as little as 16 inches of annual precipitation (Flora, 2007). Kansas receives between 70 and 77 percent of its annual precipitation during the months of April through September (Flora, 2007). The state enjoys low relative humidity. In summer months the eastern part of the state has an average relative humidity as low as 45 to 50 percent (Flora, 2007). In the winter months the average relative humidity ranges from 60 to 70 percent (Flora, 2007). In the Glaciated region average winds are 9.2 miles an hour (Flora, 2007) The windiest months generally are March and April while the calmest months tend to be July and August (Flora, 2007).

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The Glaciated regions' vegetation is comprised mainly of oak-hickory-walnut forests and grasslands (Aber, 2006). The prairie grasses cover much of the west and central Glaciated region while the forests are mainly found in the eastern part of the region. Separating the two is a transition zone where both prairie and forest vegetation are found together (Kuchler, 1974).

The prairie region is comprised mainly of Bluestem grasses and is referred to as Bluestem Prairie (Kuchler, 1974). This vegetation grows in dense stands of tall to medium grasses (Kuchler 1974). The dominant species of grasses are Big bluestern, Little bluestern, Switchgrrass, and Indian grass (Kuchler, 1974).

The forests in the eastern part of the region are dominated by medium tall, multilayered broadleaf deciduous forests (Kuchler, 1974). The major species of trees are Bitternut hickory, Shagbark hickory, White oak, Red oak, and Black oak (Kuchler, 1974). Kuchler (1974) notes that these forests mainly grow on uplands and steep valley sides.

The transitional zone is located in the eastern part of the Glaciated region in a strip of land that borders the prairie on its western side and the forests on its eastern side (Kuchler, 1974). The mosaic of prairie and forests also dominate the land around from the Perry Reservoir, and in the southwest of the Glaciated region around the Kansas River.

The following image is a Landsat image of the Kansas City vicinity, which is located in the southeast corner of the Glaciated region. This image shows vegetation in green, bare ground and fallow fields in pink, and urban areas in purple while water bodies are shown in black (Aber, 2006)

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Landsat Images of Kansas City Vicinity

Taken from Kansas City Vicinity Missouri and Kansas web page by James S. Aber :

Lake Jayhawk, Jefferson County

Taken from Gallery of Kite and Blimp Aerial Photographs by James S. and Susan W. Aber web site:

Human Land Use

Human land use in the Glaciated region ranges from urban to agriculture. Kansas City is a large urban area located in the southeast corner of the Glaciated region. In most counties in the Glaciated region, agriculture centers around corn, soybeans, cattle, and hay which are the top commodities produced. Sorghum, milk, and wheat are also important crops in the Region (Kansas Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom).

There are also two large reservoirs located in the region, Perry Reservoir and Tuttle Creek Reservoir. These reservoirs are used for storing water as well as recreation.


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