Position of the snake river watershed divide as an indicator of geodynamic processes in the greater Yellowstone region, western North America

Karl W. Wegmann, Brian D. Zurek, Christine A. Regalla, Dario Bilardello, Jennifer L. Wollenberg, Sarah E. Kopczynski, Joseph M. Ziemann, Shannon L. Haight, Jeremy D. Apgar, Cheng Zhao, Frank J. Pazzaglia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Tectonic processes, flexure due to crustal loading, and dynamic mantle flow each impart a unique imprint on topography and geomorphic responses over time scales of 104 to 106 yr. This paper explores the mobility of regional drainage divides as a key geomorphic metric that can distinguish between the various processes driving crustal deformation in the greater Yellowstone region of the northwestern United States. We propose a new analysis that quantifies the differences between the location of the presentday drainage divide from divides synthetically generated from filtered topography to determine the relative impact of tectonic and dynamic mantle influences on landscape development. The greater Yellowstone region is an opportune location for this investigation because contrasting models have been proposed to explain the parabolic shape of elevated topography and active seismicity that outline the imprint of hypothesized hotspot activity. Drainage divides synthesized from topography filtered at 50, 100, and 150 km wavelengths within the greater Yellowstone region show that the locations of the actual and synthetic Snake River drainage divides are controlled by both dynamic and flexural mechanisms in the eastern greater Yellowstone region, but by flexural mechanisms only in the western greater Yellowstone region. The location of the actual divide deviates from its predicted position in the filtered topography where tectonic controls, such as active faults (e.g., Centennial and Teton faults), have uplifted large footwall blocks. Our results are consistent with the notion of a northeastward-propagating greater Yellow stone region topographic and seismic parabola, and suggest that Basin and Range extension follows from, rather than precedes, greater Yellowstone region dynamic topography. Furthermore, our analysis suggests that eastward migration of the Snake River drainage divide lags behind the continued northeastward propagation of high-standing topography associated with the Yellowstone geophysical anomaly by 1-2 m.y.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)272-281
Number of pages10
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Drainage divides
  • Dynamic topography
  • Filtered topography
  • Snake river plain
  • Synthetic drainage divides
  • Yellowstone hotspot

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology
  • Stratigraphy


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