Telescopic Megafans on the High Plains, USA Were Signal Buffers in a Major Source-To-Sink System

Jesse Korus, R. M. Joeckel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Sediment routing systems transport sediment and environmental signals inefficiently. The storage and recycling of sediment buffers the responses of sedimentary systems to tectonic, climatic, and geomorphic changes. Long-term (a.) storage may occur in megafans—large, low-relief, hemiconical fluvial deposystems—but the behavior of these systems over such timescales is unclear. We examine late Neogene megafan deposits on the High Plains, USA that are stored in the catchment of the continental-scale Rocky Mountain-Gulf of Mexico source-to-sink system. Using high-resolution elevation data, we map numerous fluvial ridges (inverted channel relics) that can be differentiated into five, chronologically distinct groups. The oldest four groups comprise radial arrays with multiple channel divergences (avulsion nodes). The inferred fan apices and longitudinal intersection points are offset successively downgradient, indicating that fanhead entrenchment and fan-lobe deposition were approximately contemporaneous and strongly suggesting a telescopic morphology. The youngest group of channels, also the lowest in elevation, is confined to terraces along the modern valley of the South Platte River. We interpret this group as direct evidence for the abandonment of the megafan and the incision of the present valley. Uplift was the chief driving mechanism for early telescoping, but channel widening and uniform downcutting in the younger groups suggest that change in stream power was the primary driver of later telescoping and incision. The storage of sediment in the megafan effectively decoupled sources from downstream sinks. Some of this sediment was recycled during entrenchment, but much of it remains in storage as the Ogallala Group and Broadwater Formation. Emplacement of telescopic megafans should be considered as a long-term (years) buffer in other modern and ancient sediment routing systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalSedimentary Record
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2023


  • fluvial sediments
  • megafans
  • sediment recycling
  • sediment routing systems
  • sediment storage

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Geology
  • Palaeontology
  • Stratigraphy


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