Getting to the bottom of the High Plains aquifer: New insights into the depositional history, stratigraphy, and paleoecology of the Cenozoic High Plains

J. J. Smith, A. L. Layzell, W. E. Lukens, M. L. Morgan, S. M. Keller, Robert A. Martin, David L Fox

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

4 Scopus citations


This field trip is tied to a GSA 2016 joint Pardee Keynote Symposium (P5) and related topical session on the Cenozoic geology of the Great Plains (T201) that integrate new breakthroughs in scientific coring and sedimentary geoscience with the long-term demand for better characterization of the High Plains aquifer. The aquifer is the primary source of groundwater for all uses on the Great Plains, and is experiencing historic declines in water levels that could seriously compromise sustainability in areas under increasing developmental stress. Understanding the depositional history, stratigraphic framework, and hydrogeologic properties of the Cenozoic sediments comprising the aquifer is important for developing water management strategies. This guide describes a three-day field trip to examine several ongoing and increasingly collaborative projects investigating the depositional history, stratigraphy, and paleoecology of the Cenozoic High Plains. The field trip is focused on two main areas: (1) the Denver Basin, where synorogenic sedimentation associated with the Laramide orogeny deposited sediments during the late Eocene; and (2) the High Plains of western Kansas, where during the Miocene-Pliocene uplift of the Rocky Mountains, a series of clastic wedges prograding eastward formed a nearly contiguous aggradational surface covering most of the western Great Plains. Late Cenozoic uplift of the region initiated deep incision into Neogene strata and the subsequent exposure of sediments and paleosols of the Ogallala Formation. During the trip, we will visit sites and landscapes that have a long and rich history of geologic investigation. In addition to previously published results, we also present new data on the sedimentology, geochronology, paleontology, and paleoichnology of Cenozoic High Plains deposits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationUnfolding the Geology of the West
EditorsStephen M. Keller, Matthew L. Morgan
PublisherGeological Society of America
Number of pages32
ISBN (Electronic)9780813700441
StatePublished - 2016

Publication series

NameGSA Field Guides

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We gratefully acknowledge support from the National Science Foundation Grant EAR-1023285, Kansas Water Office Grant KAN0066607, and the U.S. Geological Survey National Cooperative Geologic Mapping STATEMAP program under the guidance of the Kansas Geological Mapping Advisory Committee. We thank Greg Ludvigson (Kansas Geological Survey), Jesse Korus (University of Nebraska-Lincoln) and Dennis Terry (Temple University) for their technical reviews and thoughtful critiques of the manuscript. Special thanks to Jay and Jarvis Garetson of Garetson Brothers Farms and the staff of the KGS Exploration Services. We thank colleagues Rolfe Mandel, Andreas Möller, Matt Joeckel, John Doveton, Joe Thomasson, Tammy Rittenour, Brian Platt, Randy Stotler, Laura Murphy, Mike Petronis, and Kathryn Snell; and research assistants R. Hunter Harlow, Adrienne Duarte, Brian Sitek, Elijah Turner, and the staff of the KGS Geoarchaeology and Paleoenvironment Laboratory. We are also deeply indebted to the many landowners who have not only graciously allowed us access to sites on their property but often have shown a keen interest in our research findings.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 The Geological Society of America. All rights reserved.


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