A postglacial chronology for some alluvial valleys in Wyoming

Water Supply Paper 1261




Alluvial terraces were studied in several major river basins in eastern Wyoming. Three terraces are present along nearly all the streams and large tributaries. There are several extensive dissected erosion surfaces in the area, but these are much older than, and stand well above, the recent alluvial terraces with which this report is concerned.

The three alluvial terraces stand respectively about 40, 10, and 5 feet above the present streams. The uppermost and oldest is a fill terrace comprised of three stratigraphic units of varying age. The oldest unit is Pleistocene and the youngest unit postdates the development of a soil zone, or paleosol, which is characterized by strong accumulation of calcium carbonate and gypsum. This paleosol is an important stratigraphic marker. The middle terrace is generally a cut terrace and is developed on the material making up the youngest alluvium of the high terrace. The lowest is a fill terrace, the surface of which is only slightly higher than the present flood plain.

The oldest terrace can tentatively be traced into mountain valleys of the Bighorn Range on the basis of discontinuous remnants. The terrace remnants occur far upstream from the youngest moraine in the valleys studied. On this basis, the terrace sequence is considered to postdate the last Wisconsin ice in the Bighorn Mountains. The paleosol is tentatively correlated with Altithermal time, called in Europe the Climatic Optimum. The terrace sequence is very similar to that suggested by various workers in the southwestern United States.

Two streams, Clear Creek and the Powder River, deposited comparable silty alluvium, the surface of which now comprises the highest alluvial terrace. The gradients of these former flood plains differed markedly between the two streams despite the comparability in size of material deposited. This difference in gradient is believed to have required different relative contributions of water from mountain and plain areas than now exist.

Knowledge of Recent physiographic history of the area is the basis of determining the relative ages of some gully features. Certain vertical-walled channels or arroyos that might appear to be attributable to postsettlement grazing or other man-induced influences are shown to be Recent but pre-Columbian in age. Such differentiation in age of erosion features is necessary for proper understanding of present-day soil erosion problems.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
A postglacial chronology for some alluvial valleys in Wyoming
Series title:
Water Supply Paper
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Government Printing Office
Publisher location:
Washington, D.C.
vi, 89 p.
United States