Dakota Formation

Dakota Formation
Stratigraphic range: Upper Cretaceous

Outcrop of Dakota Formation at crest of Dinosaur Ridge, near Golden, Colorado
Type Geologic formation
Overlies Morrison Formation (Rocky Mountains)
Primary sandstone
Other shale
Region Rocky Mountains, Great Plains
Country United States, Canada
Type section
Named for Dakota City, Nebraska
Named by Meek and Hayden, 1862[1]

The Dakota Formation (also Dakota Sandstone and Cockrum Sandstone, more formally the Dakota Group) is a geologic formation composed of sedimentary rocks deposited on the eastern side of the Late Cretaceous Western Interior Seaway.[2] F.B. Meek and F.V. Hayden named it for exposures along the Missouri River near Dakota City, Nebraska.[1]

The strata lie unconformably atop Paleozoic and Precambrian rocks, and are the oldest Cretaceous rocks in the northern Great Plains, including Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. It consists of sandy, shallow-marine deposits with intermittent mud flat sediments, and occasional stream deposits.[3][4]

The Dakota Formation is an important aquifer in some areas of the Great Plains.[4][5]

Small exposure of the Dakota Formation in Central Kansas.

Geological history

Schematic reconstruction of the eastern side of the Cretaceous seaway during deposition of the sediments that eventually became the Dakota Formation. Erosional highlands occur in South Dakota and Minnesota.

Deposition of the sediments that would become the Dakota Formation began during the early Late Cretaceous (Cenomanian). This deposition marked a reversal from millions of years of erosion. This reversal was due to rising of the mouth of the rivers, called a rise in base level, as the Cretaceous Seaway formed. This rise lowers the gradient of the rivers causing them to deposit sediment because their velocity can no longer sustain high volumes of sediment.[6]

Measurements show that the rivers flowed westward and southwestward towards the encroaching sea from source areas near the present-day Great Lakes. The point of deposition slowly moved eastward as the seaway rose. This change is seen by a gradual shift in the composition of sandstones from having a lot of Paleozoic-age rock detritus in Kansas to sandstones having all Precambrian crystalline rock debris in Iowa.[7]

This shift means that the rivers had completely eroded away the Paleozoic rocks in the river source area by the time the Seaway rose high enough for the rivers to deposit sediments in Iowa. The very top of the Dakota Formation was deposited along the coast as indicated by some fossil marine invertebrates. Fossil plants, coal deposits and kaolinite clays show that the climate was warm and wet during deposition of the Dakota Formation.[7] Some of the ancient preserved soils show that an extensive flood plain forest was present.

Two sides of the seaway

Historically, Lower Cretaceous strata in the Rocky Mountain region have been called the Dakota Formation based on assumed correlation with the type section of the Dakota of the Great Plains. Witzke and Ludvigson have argued that use of the name "Dakota" must reflect actual, not presumed correlation based on stratigraphy and composition of the sedimentary rock.[7] To the west of the Rocky Mountains, such as on the Colorado Plateau, this sequence of Upper Cretaceous, predominately sandstone, sedimentary rocks was recommended to be known as the Dakota Group,[8] to dispel any suggestion of direct facies correlation. However, few authors of papers on the Dakota west of the Rocky Mountains, especially on the Colorado Plateau, recognize the Dakota as the Dakota Group, instead using the term Dakota Sandstone, of formation rank. Its subdivisions are recognized as members. Many authors have emphasized the fact that the marine Dakota Sandstone on the Colorado Plateau is intertongued with the marine lower part of the Mancos Shale, resulting in valid lithostratigraphic names such as the Whitewater Arroyo Tongue of the Mancos Shale which is directly overlain by the Twowells Sandstone Tongue of the Dakota Sandstone (references). In the western San Juan Basin, the lowermost part of the Dakota Sandstone, although of marginal marine origin in the eastern San Juan Basin, is a complex of non-marine sandstones. These relationships are especially well displayed in the San Juan Basin of northwestern New Mexico

Beginning in the Early Cretaceous, the Cretaceous Seaway spread south from what is now the Arctic Ocean and connected with a short northward extension from the Gulf of Mexico.[9] This marine transgression of the ocean onto what was formerly land, was completed by the late Albian (~100 MA) thereby dividing North America in half. On the eastern side of the Seaway, sediments that would become the Dakota Formation were deposited as coastal and nearshore marine sands and silts. As the seaway continued to deepen and widen, this eastern shoreline moved progressively eastward throughout the Cenomanian. Meanwhile, on the western side of the seaway, sediments were carried eastwards and northeastwards by rivers from mountains located along what is the Nevada-Utah border.

These western sediments accumulated as nearshore and coastal sands and silts as well, and are counterparts to the Dakota Formation on the eastern side of the Seaway. However, these counterpart sediments originated from the other side of the sea and were carried by rivers flowing in opposite directions. These western sediments are equivalent to the Dakota Formation of the Great Plains, but are not exactly the same strata. Individual formations in the western Dakota Group have local names. In Wyoming, the term Cloverly Formation has been expanded by some authors to include sediments formerly placed within the Dakota Formation. Along the Colorado Front Range, the lower, terrestrial beds, or facies, of the Dakota Group are sometimes called the Lytle Formation, and near-shore marine facies are called the South Platte Formation.[10] In eastern Utah and western Colorado, Young introduced the term Naturita Formation for a series of facies in the larger "Dakota Group".[8] However, despite Witzke and Ludvigson logic, geologist have continued to refer to the Lower Cretaceous sequence of formations on the Colorado Plateau and the Rocky Mountains as the Dakota Group.[11]

Vertebrate paleofauna

Dinosaur fossils are very rare in the Dakota Formation and most of them come from Kansas. Some of them are found in Colorado. The most popular sight for fossils in Colorado is Dinosaur Ridge. The best specimen is a partial skeleton of a nodosaurid ankylosaur called Silvisaurus condrayi.[12][13] Other isolated ankylosaur material may also belong to Silvisaurus.[14] Fossil dinosaur tracks are also known and include theropod and ankylosaur.[14] A large ornithopod femur is known from Burt County, Nebraska as well as fossil dinosaur tracks from Jefferson County.[15][16]


Pterosaurs of the Dakota Formation
Taxon Presence Description Images


  1. Tracks.
  1. Known from both early and late Cretaceous strata in the Dakota Group.[18] Found at the John Martin Reservoir in Colorado.[18]
    1. Specimens kept at the Dinosaur Tracks Museum, of the University of Colorado at Denver.[18]

    See also


    1. 1 2 Meek, F.B. and Hayden, F.V., 1862, Descriptions of new Lower Silurian, (Primordial), Jurassic, Cretaceous, and Tertiary fossils, collected in Nebraska, by the exploring expedition under the command of Capt. Wm F. Reynolds, U.S. Top. Engineers, with some remarks on the rocks from which they were obtained: Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia Proceedings, v. 13, p. 415-447.
    2. Monroe, James S. and Wicander, Reed (1997) The Changing Earth: Exploring Geology and Evolution (2nd edition) Wadsworth Publishing Company, Belmont, California, page 610, ISBN 0-314-09577-2
    3. "Geology of the Quarry: Dakota Sandstone" Dinosaur National Monument, National Park Service
    4. 1 2 McLaughlin, Thad G. (1942) "Water-bearing Formations, continued: Cretaceous System: Dakota Group" Geology and Ground-Water Resources of Morton County, Kansas
    5. Wang, Herb (2003) "Saga of the Dakota Sandstone"
    6. Bejnar, C. R. and Lessard, R. H. (1976) "Paleocurrents and depositional environments of The Dakota Group, San Miguel and Mora Counties, New Mexico" in Ewing, Rodney C. and Kues, Barry S. (eds.) (1976) Guidebook of Vermejo Park, Northeastern New Mexico: Twenty-seventh Field Conference, September 30, October 1 and 2, 1976 New Mexico Geological Society, Socorro, N.M., pp. 157–163, OCLC 2754478
    7. 1 2 3 Witzke, B.J., and Ludvigson, G.A. 1994. The Dakota Formation in Iowa and its type area. In Shurr, G.W., Ludvigson, G.A., and Hammond, R.H. (eds). Perspectives on the eastern margin of the Cretaceous Western Interior Basin. Geological Society of America, Special Paper 287:43–78.
    8. 1 2 Young, Robert G. (1960) "Dakota Group of Colorado Plateau" American Association of Petroleum Geologists Bulletin 44(2): pp 156–194
    9. Kauffman, E.G. 1984. Paleobiogeography and evolutionary response dynamic in the Cretaceous Western Interior Seaway of North America. In Westermann, G.E.G. (ed), Jurassic-Cretaceous Biochronology and Paleogeography of North America, Geological Association of Canada Special Paper 27: 273–306.
    10. Waage, K. M. (1955) Dakota Group in northern Front Range Foothills, Colorado U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 274-B:15–49.
    11. For example in east-central and northeast New Mexico the Dakota Group cpnsists of the Mesa Rica Sandstone, the Pajarito Shale, and the Romeroville Sandstone, and includes the underlying Tucumcari Shale in the Tucumcari area and Glencairn Formation in Union County. "Dakota Group" U.S. Geological Survey
    12. Eaton, T.H. 1960. A new armored dinosaur from the Cretaceous of Kansas. University of Kansas Paleontological Contributions, Vertebrata, 8:1–24.
    13. Carpenter, K. and J.I. Kirkland. 1998. Review of Lower and Middle Cretaceous ankylosaurs from North America. Lucas, S.G., Kirkland, J.I. and Estep, J.W., (eds.), Lower and Middle Cretaceous Terrestrial Ecosystems. New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science Bulletin No. 14:249–270.
    14. 1 2 Liggett, G.A. 2005. A review of the dinosaurs from Kansas. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science 108(1–2), p.1-14.
    15. Barbour, E. H. 1931. Evidence of dinosaurs in Nebraska. Bulletin of University of Nebraska State Museum, 1:187–190.
    16. Joeckel, R. M., Cunningham, J. M., Corner, R. G., Brown, G. W., Phillips, P. L. and Ludvigson, G. A. 2004. Late Albian Dinosaur Tracks from the Cratonic (eastern) Margin of the Western Interior Seaway, Nebraska, USA. Ichnos, 11:275-284.
    17. "Table 17.1," in Weishampel, et al. (2004). Page 365.
    18. 1 2 3 4 Lockley, M.; Harris, J.D.; and Mitchell, L. 2008. "A global overview of pterosaur ichnology: tracksite distribution in space and time." Zitteliana. B28. p. 187-198. ISSN 1612-4138.
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