Saturday, December 01, 2012

How old is the Grand Canyon?

A new study arguing that Grand Canyon is 60 million years old, in contrast to the widely accepted age of 6 million years, is drawing a lot of news media attention.  It made the front page of the Arizona (Tucson) Daily Star yesterday, and I heard a report about it on NPR this morning but it's also been picked up by the New York Times et al.

The article was published Thursday in the online version of Science, and concludes "[Rebecca] Flowers and [Kenneth] Farley analyzed four rock samples from the western portions of the Grand Canyon and four from the eastern reaches of the gorge. The pattern of helium concentrations in the samples suggests that substantial parts of the western portion of the Grand Canyon were already carved to within a few hundred meters of their current depth by about 70 million years ago and that erosion hasn't increased dramatically in recent eras, the researchers report. That's a far cry from the 5-million-to 6-million-year-old age suggested by previous research, and is about quadruple the oldest previous estimate from other teams for the canyon's age."

Meanwhile, the Geological Society of America published a new book, "Grand Canyon Geology: Two Billion Years of Earth’s History," edited by  Michael Timmons and Karl E. Karlstrom. The summary notes "Carved in the last 6 million years by the Colorado River and its tributaries, Grand Canyon is one of the premier geologic landscapes in the world."

Karl and UA geologist Bill Dickinson are quoted in Science expressing some skepticism over the new 'old' results.   Previous work by AZGS geologists supports the younger age for the canyon.  We need to take a hard look at these new dates.

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