Rainwater Basin

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Rainwater Basin Wetland Management District
IUCN category IV (habitat/species management area)
Map showing the location of Rainwater Basin Wetland Management District
Map showing the location of Rainwater Basin Wetland Management District
Map showing the location of Rainwater Basin Wetland Management District
Map showing the location of Rainwater Basin Wetland Management District
LocationNebraska, USA
Nearest cityKearney, NE
Coordinates40°42′30″N 99°04′52″W / 40.70833°N 99.08111°W / 40.70833; -99.08111Coordinates: 40°42′30″N 99°04′52″W / 40.70833°N 99.08111°W / 40.70833; -99.08111
Area22,864 acres (92.53 km2)
Governing bodyU.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
WebsiteRainwater Basin Wetland Management District

The Rainwater Basin wetland region is a 4,200 sq mi (11,000 km2) loess plain located south of the Platte River in south-central Nebraska.[1] It lies principally in Adams, Butler, Clay, Fillmore, Hamilton, Kearney, Phelps, Polk, Saline, Seward, and York counties and extends into adjacent areas of southeastern Hall, northern Franklin, northern Nuckolls, western Saline, northern Thayer and northwestern Webster counties. Before European settlement, this plain was covered by prairie grasslands interspersed with thousands of ephemeral playa wetlands, called Rainwater Basins. Informally and locally, individual Nebraska Rainwater Basins are referred to as rainbasins, basins, lagoons, lakes, ponds, marshes, hay marshes, and lakes marshes.[2] To the west, a tallgrass prairie in the east once gradually transitioned into mixed grass prairie. Currently, the Rainwater Basin wetland region is covered by farms, mainly growing corn and soybeans. Several, interspersed, stream courses, of which largest is the Big Blue River and its tributaries, drain this region. Riparian woodlands and upland slopes possessing oak woodlands are associated with these streams.[3][4] In the spring and fall months, millions of migratory birds pass through the region to feed and rest. Along with riparian habitats associated Platte River, Big Blue River,its tributaries, and smaller streams, Rainwater Basins are a major component of the Central Flyway of North America.[2][4]

Prior to its agricultural development in historic times, the Rainwater Basin wetland region was characterized by numerous playa wetlands, Rainwater Basins, numbering in the thousands. The shallow depressions, in which these wetlands occur are lined with a nearly impervious layer of clayey soil, a claypan, that prohibits surface water from penetrating the subsoil. As a result, Rainwater Basins are not naturally influenced by the water table and the sole source of water is run-off in the form of rain, snow and, currently, drainage from crop irrigation. Because the primary source of water for these wetlands is precipitation, they annually vary in depth, expanse and seasonality due to changes in precipitation regimes and are called Rainwater Basins.[1][5]

Rainwater Basins[edit]

The subtle depressions known locally as Rainwater Basins lie scattered across the loess plain of south-central Nebraska. The majority of them lie to the south of the Platte River. Prior to European settlement, there were nearly 4,000 of these wetlands totaling up 40,500-hectare (100,000-acre). The smaller, pothole depressions, which are irregular in shape and do not exhibit any orientation, range from about 0.1–30-hectare (0.25–74.13-acre) in size. Their bottoms generally lie less than 3 feet (0.91 m) below the surrounding land surface at their lowest point. Most of these smaller depressions have been destroyed by agricultural activities such as filling, land leveling, drainage, and sedimentation.[6][7]

Starks[8] first recognized that the larger of these basins are approximately elliptical to elongate in shape. The larger and semi-elliptical of these basins typically measure about 0.4–0.9 miles (0.64–1.45 km) by 0.9–1.5 miles (1.4–2.4 km). Most basins are closed depressions that hold runoff from the surrounding landscape to form seasonal lakes and wetlands in them. Some of these basins have been naturally breached, or drain to an outside watershed, and no longer hold precipitation run-off. Many of the large semi-elliptical to elliptical Rainwater Basins have a crescent-shaped ridge that Stark referred to as a lunette located on the southeast side of them. These distinctive ridges are about 15–50 feet (4.6–15.2 m) in relief.[1][6][9][10]

Since European settlement of this region, about 90% of these wetlands have disappeared. Many have been drained so that the land could be used for agricultural purposes. Many of the remaining sites have been set aside by government agencies and non-profit organizations; today, there are 84 publicly owned Rainwater Basin sites, totaling 11,600-hectare (29,000-acre) of protected wildlife habitat.[7]

Geomorphology of Rainwater Basins[edit]

LiDAR image of Nebraska Rainwater Basins at latitude 40.7000 and Longitude -98.4722. The large elliptical basin has a major axis of 6,110 meters and a minor axis of 3,400 meters. The basin is located 600 meters above sea level.[11]

The large semi-elliptical to elliptical Rainwater Basins are the surface expression of older elliptical depressions developed in fluvial sands and gravels that are buried by a blanket of a 2.5–8 meters (8.2–26.2 ft) thick sequence of layered loesses and associated paleosols. The loess, which overlies these features, consists of an undisturbed sequence, from bottom to top, of Middle Wisconsinan Gilman Canyon Formation (loess), a regional paleosol developed in Gilman Canyon Formation, Late Wisconsinan Peoria Loess, Brady Soil (paleosol) developed in the Peoria Loess, and Holocene Bignell Loess in which the modern soil has developed. This loess sequence lies upon a paleosol developed in the fluvial sands and gravels in which these depressions initially developed. Thus, the modern basin landscape is a direct result of the accumulation a few meters of loess that blankets an older basin landscape. These basins are palimpsest landforms created by the episodic accumulation of a blanket of loess over a prehistoric landscape with numerous basins.[1][6][12][13]

Like their associated Rainwater Basins, the crescent-shaped ridges (lunettes) are also blanketed by loess. Although a complete sequence of Peoria loess overlying Gilman Canyon Formation and associated paleosols cover the ridges, the overall thickness of loess is slightly thinner than the loess covering the adjacent uplands and depressions. Where they have been cored, the ridges underlying the loess consist of well-sorted sand on the order of 3–5 meters (9.8–16.4 ft) thick.[6][13] Also buried by loess beneath the surface of the Rainwater Basin wetland region are the relict channel belt of the Pleistocene Platte River and relict fields of sand dunes. The original Rainwater Basins are associated with both of these buried Pleistocene landscapes.[10][12][13]

The age of the loesses and associated paleosols that buried the original Rainwater basins and the fluvial sand in which they formed have been dated by either radiocarbon dating, optically stimulated luminescence dating, or both.[13] The oldest loess overlying original Rainwater basins have yielded ages from about 28,000 to 36,000 BP radiocarbon years and optically stimulated luminescence up to 36,000 BP calendar years.[14][15] The fluvial sands of a pleistocene Platte River, which overlain by the Gilman Canyon formation and younger loesses, yielded optically stimulated luminescence dates from about 36,000 to 50,000 BP calender years. These dates demonstrate that the Rainwater basins were formed prior to the Middle Wisconsinan, Marine Isotope Stage 3, and the accumulation of the Gilman Canyon Formation.[12][13]

Rainwater Basin Wetland Management District[edit]

The Rainwater Basin Wetland Management District (WMD) currently manages 61 tracts of land, 59 of which are Waterfowl Production Areas (WPA) totaling 22,864 acres (92,52 km2) in the U.S. state of Nebraska. One of the remaining two areas is McMurtrey Wildlife Management Area that was transferred from the U.S. Military and is closed to public use. The other tract is the Platte River National Wildlife Management Area and this property is owned by the state of Wyoming and managed through a memorandum of understanding. WPAs are small isolated tracts of land scattered throughout the District. The Wetland Management District is managed from offices in Kearney, Nebraska. All of the federally managed land was acquired from willing landowners and purchased with the proceeds of duck stamps that are sold to hunters each year.

Birds of the Rainwater Basin[edit]

The Rainwater Basin wetland region is a prime location for birdwatching; 257 bird species have been observed in the region.[4][2][16] Species in the Rainwater Basin include:


  1. ^ a b c d Krueger, J.P., 1986. Development of oriented lakes in the eastern rainbasin region of south-central Nebraska. Master’s thesis, Department of Geology. University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, NE.
  2. ^ a b c Jorgensen, J.G., 2012. Birds of the Rainwater Basin, Nebraska. Lincoln: Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. 121 pp.
  3. ^ Kaul, R.B., and Rolfsmeier, S.B., 1983. Native vegetation of Nebraska (Map). Lincoln: Conservation and Survey Division, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
  4. ^ a b c Jorgensen, J.G., 2004. An overview of shorebird migration in the Eastern Rainwater Basin, Nebraska. Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union Occasional Paper No. 8. 53 pp.
  5. ^ LaGrange, T., 1997. Guide to Nebraska’s wetlands and their conservation needs. Lincoln: Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
  6. ^ a b c d Kuzila, M.S., 1994. Inherited morphologies of two large basins in Clay County, Nebraska. Great Plains Research, pp.51-63.
  7. ^ a b Stutheit, R.G., Gilbert, M.C., Whited, P.W. and Lawrence, K.L., 2004. A regional guidebook for applying the hydrogeomorphic approach to assessing wetland functions of rainwater basin depressional wetlands in Nebraska (No. ERDC/EL-TR-04-4). U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Washington, D.C.
  8. ^ Starks, P.J. 1984. Analysis of the rainbasin depressions of Clay County, Nebraska. Master’s thesis, Department of Geography and Geology. University of Nebraska-Omaha, NE.
  9. ^ Kuzila, M.S., 1988. Genesis and morphology of soils in and around large depressions in Clay County, Nebraska. PhD. Dissertation., Department of Agronomy. University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, NE.
  10. ^ a b Young, A.R., Hanson, P.R., Larsen, A.K., and Howard, L.M., 2018. Surficial Geology of the Edgar NW 7.5 Minute Quadrangle: Version 1.0. Conservation and Survey Division (Nebraska Geological Survey), School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. scale 1:24,000, supplement.
  11. ^ Zamora, A., A model for the geomorphology of the Carolina Bays, Geomorphology (2017), DOI 10.1016/j.geomorph.2017.01.019 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geomorph.2017.01.019
  12. ^ a b c Dillon, J.S., Hanson, P.R., Larsen, , A.K., Raymond, C., and Howard, L.M., 2016. Surficial Geology of the Kearney SW 7.5 Minute Quadrangle, Nebraska: Version 1.0. Conservation and Survey Division (Nebraska Geological Survey), School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. scale 1:24,000, supplement.
  13. ^ a b c d e Hanson, P.R., Young, A.R., Larsen, A.K., Howard, L.M. and Dillon, J.S., 2017. Surficial Geology of the Fairmont 7.5 Minute Quadrangle, Nebraska. Version 1.0 Conservation and Survey Division (Nebraska Geological Survey), School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. scale 1:24,000, supplement.
  14. ^ Maat, P.B. and Johnson, W.C., 1996. Thermoluminescence and new 14C age estimates for late Quaternary loesses in southwestern Nebraska. Geomorphology, 17(1-3), pp.115-128.
  15. ^ Muhs, D.R., E.A. Bettis III, J.N. Aleinikoff, J.P. McGeehin, J. Beann, G. Skipp, B.D. Marshall, H.M. Roberts, W.C. Johnson, and R. Benton. (2008) Origin and paleoclimatic significance of late Quaternary loess in Nebraska: Evidence from stratigraphy, chronology, sedimentology, and geochemistry. Geological Society of America Bulletin. 120(11/12):1378–1407.
  16. ^ Rainwater Basin Facts. Lincoln: Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

External links[edit]

  • "Rainwater Basin Wetland Management District". U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Retrieved 2016-06-15.
  • "Rainwater Basin Wetland Management District Annual Narrative Report" (PDF). U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2004. Archived from the original (pdf) on 2006-07-24. Retrieved 2006-08-16.
  • "Spring Migration Guide Nebraska's Rainwater Basin". Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Retrieved 2006-08-16.
  • "Rainwater Basin". The Nature Conservancy. Retrieved 2006-08-16.
  • "The Rainwater Basin". Rainwater Basin Joint Venture. Retrieved 2006-08-16.
  • Last of the Rainwater Basins Documentary produced by Nebraska Educational Telecommunications