Date of this Version
The newly recognized Whiteclay Gravel Beds (WGB) of the Miocene Ogallala Group crop out as a narrow, discontinuous ribbon of sands and gravels in Dawes and Sheridan Counties, northwestern Nebraska, USA. The WGB are exposed in a series of municipal gravel quarries and natural exposures that define a linear trench in underlying strata at least 20 m deep and up to 300 m wide, with short, southeast-trending reaches separating generally longer east-trending sections. This gravel-filled trench can be recognized from the Nebraska–South Dakota border near Whiteclay, Nebraska southeastward to east of Gordon, Nebraska, a distance of ~ 30 km. The outcrop belt of the WGB is coincident in location and trend with the Whiteclay Fault Zone. Where exposed in quarries, the walls of the trench are steep-sided, vertical, or locally overhanging. Polished surfaces, slickensides, and parallel joint sets are common in the walls of the trench near Whiteclay, but uncommon in those to the east. The narrow belt defined by this trench is filled by stratified gravel (< 2.0 m, typically < 0.3 m) of sedimentary lithologies derived from various Cenozoic units (but principally Anderson Ranch Formation), and sand. Relatively small amounts of unrounded granitic, volcanic, and quartz gravel are preserved in places. Cross-bedding and clast imbrication indicate paleoflow towards the east.
The WGB are interpreted to have formed in response to tectonic upheaval associated with uplift of the Black Hills of South Dakota in Early Miocene times. Fault rupture topography facilitated formation of a steep-sided canyon, or valley, up to 20 m deep, being virtually straight with sharp bends at intervals of several km. An alluvial channel belt developed in the floor of the valley, filling the available accommodation space with coarse sand and gravel via aggradational stacking of the deposits of successive channels and channel belts. Channel belts were probably braided, with individual channels up to 4 m deep and a few tens of meters wide. The multi-storey character of the deposit indicates multiple episodes of cutting and filling. The coarse grain-size of the fill suggests energetic discharge with frequent bankfull flows, even though the system had a relatively low gradient (0.004). An abundance of reworked fossil debris is derived from several stratigraphic units, clasts of which have been identified in the fill. The presence of a contemporary merychippine horse and a primitive species of the oreodont Brachycrus constrain formation of the WGB to a short interval within the Early Miocene (c. 17.5 Ma). The mammal fauna suggests that this stream was a valuable source of water, while fragments of aquatic organisms such as turtles and fish indicate perennial discharge. The WGB provides a crucial window into a pluvial period in the Miocene that is largely unpreserved elsewhere in the basin, facilitated in part by fault rupture topography.