Geology of the Knife River area, North Dakota

Open-File Report 53-21




The Knife River area, consisting of six 15-minute quadrangles, includes the lower half of the Knife River valley in west-central North Dakota. The area, in the center of the Williston Basin, is underlain by the Tongue River member of the Fort Union formation (Paleocene) and the Golden Valley formation (Eocene). The Tongue River includes beds equivalent to the Sentinel Butte shale; the Golden Valley formation, which receives its first detailed description in this report, consists of two members, a lower member of gray to white sandy kaolin clay and an upper member of cross-bedded micaceous sandstone. Pro-Tongue River rocks that crop out in southwestern North Dakota include the Ludlow member of the Fort Union formation, the Cannonball marine formation (Paleocene) and the Hell Creek, Fox Hills, and Pierre formations, all upper Cretaceous. Post-Golden Valley rocks include the White River formation (Oligocene) and gravels on an old planation surface that may be Miocene or Pliocent. Surficial deposits include glacial and fluvial deposits of Pleistocene age and alluvium, dune sand, residual silica, and landslide blocks of Recent age. Three ages of glacial deposits can be differentiated, largely on the basis of three fills, separated by unconformities, in the Knife River valley. All three are of Wisconsin age and probably represent the Iowan, Tazewell, and Mankato substages. Deposits of the Cary substage have not been identified either in the Knife River area or elsewhere in southern North Dakota. Iowan glacial deposits form the outermost drift border in North Dakota. Southwest of this border are a few scattered granite boulders that are residual from the erosion of either the White River formation or a pre-Wisconsin till. The Tazewell drift border cannot be followed in southern North Dakota. The Mankato drift border can be traced in a general way from the South Dakota State line northwest across the Missouri River and through the middle of the Knife River area. The major land forms of southwestern North Dakota are: (1) high buttes that stand above (2) a gravel-capped planation surface and (3) a gently-rolling upland; below the upland surface are (4) remnants of a broad valley stage of erosion into which (5) modern valleys have been cut. The broad valley profiles of many streams continue east across the Missouri River trench and are part of a former drainage system that flowed into Hudson Bay. Crossing the divides are (6) large trenches, formed when the former northeast-flowing streams were dammed by the glacier and diverted to the southeast. The largest diversion valley is occupied by the Missouri River; another diversion system, now largely abandoned, extends from the Killdeer Mountains southwest to the mouth of Porcupine Creek in Sioux County. By analogy with South Dakota, most of the large diversion valleys are thought to have been cut in Illinoian time. Numerous diversion valleys of Illinoian to late Wisconsin age cut across the divides. Other Pleistocene land forms include ground and moraines, kames, and terraces. Land forms of Recent age include dunes, alluvial terraces, floodplains, and several types of landslide blocks. One type of landslide, called rockslide slump, has not previously been described. Drainage is well adjusted to the structure, most of the streams flowing down the axes of small synclines. The bedrock formations have been gently folded into small domes and synclines that interrupt a gentle northward regional dip into the Williston Basin. Three episodes of deformation affected southwestern North Dakota in Tertiary time: (1) intra-Paleocene, involving warping and minor faulting; (2) post-Eocene, involving uplift and tilting; (2) Oligocene, involving uplift and gentle folding. Mineral resources include ceramic clay, sand and gravel and lignite coal. The Knife River area is the largest lignite-producing district in the United States.

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Geology of the Knife River area, North Dakota
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Open-File Report
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U.S. Geological Survey],
323 p