Frequently Asked Questions
Geology, natural resources, fun facts, and more
Kansas has a history of natural earthquakes. The largest earthquake documented in the state occurred in 1867 near Wamego in Pottawatomie County. It was about a 5.2 on the Richter Scale and was felt as far away as Dubuque, Iowa. This earthquake, as well as most other Kansas earthquakes, occurred on deep faults associated with ancient rock structures. An increase in earthquake activity began in south-central Kansas in 2013 following an increase in deep fluid injection near the Kansas–Oklahoma border. Induced earthquakes continue today, although at a much lower rate. Most Kansas earthquakes are too small to feel, but occasionally the state is shaken by a larger event.
Small fossils of invertebrate animals (those without backbones) are common in eastern Kansas. These are primarily the remains of animals that lived in shallow seas that covered the state about 320 to 245 million years ago. Brachiopods (shelled animals), corals, crinoids (a plant-like animal that is distantly related to starfish), sponges, and other animals can be found in many of the layers of limestone that line Kansas roads and highways. Stopping along the Kansas Turnpike (except for emergencies) is prohibited, and collectors should be careful any time they stop to collect along a highway. Less-traveled roads probably make better collecting locations.
Larger vertebrate fossils are found in the chalk beds of western Kansas. These are primarily animals that lived in a sea that covered Kansas during the late Cretaceous Period, about 80 million years ago. Collectors regularly turn up fossils of fish, sharks, turtles, swimming reptiles called plesiousars and mosasaurs, and flying reptiles called pterosaurs. Nearly all of these collecting locations are on private property and require permission of the landowner.
For more information, see GeoKansas: Fossils in Kansas and the publication Ancient Life Found in Kansas Rocks. Excellent specimens of these fossils can be seen at several museums in the state. The Survey has a free brochure on fossil collecting in the state that includes more information.
Kansas can be divided into 11 regions based on the geologic history and physical appearance of the land. These areas are known as physiographic provinces. Some, such as the Flint Hills or the Smoky Hills, are familiar to most Kansans. Learn more about each region at GeoKansas: Physiographic Regions.
The Survey maintains records of water wells drilled in the state. In addition, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment has information related to the water-quality aspects of water wells. Many local water-well drillers are excellent sources of information and knowledge. The Kansas Ground Water Association can provide more information about drillers in your area. We also have a publication titled "Drilling a Water Well on Your Land: What You Should Know."
Topographic maps show the elevation at the earth's surface, as well as roads, quarries, towns, lakes, rivers, and other features. Very detailed topographic maps (drawn at a scale of 1:24,000, so that one inch on the map equals 2,000 feet of actual distance) even show individual houses. Topographic maps for all of Kansas are available from the Survey. To order, call 785-864-3965 or firstname.lastname@example.org our publications office. See topographic maps for more information about maps available from the KGS.
Oil and natural gas have been found in 93 of the 105 counties in the state. While initial oil and gas exploration focused on eastern Kansas, the largest areas of oil production today are in central Kansas (such as Butler County) and along a feature called the Central Kansas Uplift in Russell, Ellis, and other counties. Much of the state's natural gas production comes from the Hugoton Natural Gas Area in southwestern Kansas, one of the largest natural gas fields in the world. For more information about the Hugoton, see the KGS publication "Hugoton Natural Gas Area of Kansas." We also have an online Top Ten list of oil and gas production and a Kansas Oil and Gas Database of production data and related information.
Much of the water used for irrigation in western Kansas comes from the High Plains aquifer. The Ogallala aquifer, a well-known source of water in western Kansas, is one part of the High Plains aquifer. Pumping from the High Plains aquifer has lowered water tables in much of western Kansas during the past several decades. In some places, such as southwestern Kansas, declines have been dramatic (more than 100 feet since pumping began) but substantial amounts of water remain. In a few locations, much of the High Plains aquifer is nearly depleted. Declines have slowed somewhat in the past decade (that is, the water table in many places is not declining as fast as it once was), and in some places, particularly in central Kansas, water levels have stabilized or even gone up slightly. But long-term declines will undoubtedly continue across western Kansas. For more information, see the Kansas High Plains Aquifer Atlas.
For records of individual wells, see the WIZARD Database.
In western Kansas, the amount of recharge (or precipitation that moves back into the aquifer) is very small, less than one-fourth inch per year, far less than the rate at which water is being removed.
The Tylosaurus, a giant mosasaur, is the Kansas marine fossil, and Pteranodon, a winged pterosaur, is the Kansas flight fossil. The fossils were designated by the 2014 Kansas Legislature, and the bill was signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback. For more information, see "Kansas Designates Two Official State Fossils."
Mount Sunflower, at 4,039 feet above sea level, is the highest point in Kansas. It is in Wallace County, near the Colorado border. Though the location is on private property, visitors are generally welcome. The lowest point in the state, 680 feet above sea level, is in Montogomery County in southeastern Kansas, where the Verdigris River flows into Oklahoma. Much of the increase in elevation from east to west is related to the uplift of the Rocky Mountains, which raised the entire landscape as far east as western Kansas.
Using various methods, the Kansas Geological Survey has determined the state's center is 98°22'38" W, 38°29'38" N. This location is in northwestern Rice County, about 1.5 miles southeast of the town of Bushton. For more information, see Kansas Geological Survey Open-File Report 2006-10, "Comparison of State Center Points for Kansas," by John Dunham and Jeremy Bartley.
This location was mathematically determined, but it is akin to cutting out a piece of paper in the shape of the state, then balancing that shape on the head of a pin. The spot where the state would balance on that pin is the center of Kansas. The center of the 48 contiguous states is northwest of Lebanon, Kansas, in Smith County. And the geodetic center of the United States, a starting point for mapping, is located in Osborne County.
Kansas has been covered by a series of seas, some deep, some shallow. During the Pennsylvanian Subperiod and Permian Period of geologic history, from 323 to 252 million years ago, a series of seas, most only a few tens of feet deep, came and went across the state numerous times. These seas left behind layers of limestone and other rocks that contain fossils of marine animals. During the Cretaceous Period (145 to 66 million years ago), a large seaway covered the western half of the state. This sea, several hundred feet deep, left behind the chalk that crops out in west-central Kansas along with common vertebrate fossils.
Glaciers moved into the northeastern tip of Kansas about 600,000 years ago, from roughly the Kansas River on the south to the Big Blue River on the west. These were massive walls of ice; geologists have estimated that the glacier was 500 feet thick where Lawrence is located today. In the time since glaciers were in northeastern Kansas, erosion has erased much of the evidence of their visit, but bright red and pink boulders of metamorphic rock, called Sioux Quartzite, were carried to Kansas by glaciers from regions as far north as Minnesota and are still found throughout the area.
According to the Kansas Speleological Society, the Kansas landscape is dotted with several hundred caves. Few layers of rock in the state are thick enough to support extensive cave systems, but caves are found in the limestones of the Ozark Plateau area in southeastern Kansas, the limestones of the Flint Hills, and in the gypsum layers of the Red Hills. Some of the Flint Hills caves are several thousand feet in extent. Nearly all are on private property. For more information, see the Survey publication Caves in Kansas (Educational Series 9).
Most rocks at the surface of Kansas — such as limestone, shale, and sandstone — are sedimentary. Calcite crystals, and occasionally geodes, are sometimes found within the limestone layers. Selenite, a diamond-shaped form of gypsum, is found in many of the shales of the Smoky Hills and Red Hills. Crystals of galena, sphalerite, and other minerals were fairly common in extreme southeastern Kansas, though they are somewhat rare today. A number of other rocks, minerals, and sedimentary structures also can be found in Kansas. Most collecting locations are on private property and require landowner permission. For more information, see the Survey publications Kansas Rocks and Minerals (Educational Series 2) and Rocks, Minerals, and Fossils of Kansas (Educational Series 18) or GeoKansas: Rocks, Minerals, and Fossils. Rock and mineral clubs are also active in Kansas City, Topeka, and Wichita, and their members are generally knowledgeable about collecting locations.
Scientific organizations, such as the Kansas Academy of Science, hold annual field trips, primarily for scientists. Kansas 4-H clubs hold an annual summer field trip for their members. In addition, the Survey also has available a number of guidebooks, some technical and some non-technical, that give a guided description to the geology of various parts of the state. For more information, see the KGS publications catalog.
Satellite images and information about aerial photos of Kansas are available from the Kansas Applied Remote Sensing program, a research program of the Kansas Biological Survey & Center for Ecological Research at the University of Kansas.
Many rocks and minerals can be identified by using standard field guides, such as the Peterson Field Guide to Rocks and Minerals. The Survey publication Kansas Rocks and Minerals includes a key that can help you identify rocks and minerals. Many of the state's colleges, universities, and community colleges offer earth science courses; their professors can often help identify rocks and minerals. Staff at museums are also helpful in identifying fossils. Finally, the staff of the Kansas Geological Survey can help identify specimens.
The highest point in Lawrence is around Naismith, University, and Stratford streets at about 1,040 feet in elevation. Frasier Hall on the University of Kansas campus is about 1,035 feet above sea level.
The Kansas oil and gas industry is regulated by the Kansas Corporation Commission. Please check their website to determine the legalities and procedures for oil and gas wells. Information about plugging abandoned water wells is available from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
Benchmarks are permanent markers for which a precise elevation is known. The most current benchmark data, including resets and destroyed posts, is available from the U.S. Geological Survey National Geospatial Technical Operations Center.
Public Land Survey System locations (or landgrid data) includes township lines and section corners listed by latitude and longitude in decimal degrees. These data are available from the Data Access and Support Center (DASC). Most software is able to handle this data; however, if you are using an early version of Geographix (95 or earlier) you may choose to visit our landgrid data files page for more information.
The Noel Poersch 1, drilled in 1984 by Texaco Inc., is the deepest well at 11,300 ft. It's located in Washington County, SW SW 31-5S-5E, and was a dry well reaching into the Precambrian.
According to "Geography of Kansas" by Walter Schowe in the 1948 volume of the Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science, the boundaries of Kansas are measured as follows:
|— South of mouth of Kansas River||142.84|
|— North of mouth of Kansas River||101.00*|
*Rounded to the nearest mile.