Apatite samples from the bottom of the Upper Granite Gorge region of the Grand Canyon yield similar dates as samples collected on the nearby plateau, said Caltech's Wernicke. "Because both canyon and plateau samples resided at nearly the same depth beneath the Earth's surface 55 million years ago, a canyon of about the same dimensions of today may have existed at least that far back, and possibly as far back as the time of dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous period 65 million years ago."
One of the most surprising results from the study is the evidence showing the adjacent plateaus around the Grand Canyon may have eroded away as swiftly as the Grand Canyon itself, each dropping a mile or more, said Flowers. Small streams on the plateaus appear to have been just as effective at stripping away rock as the ancient Colorado River was at carving the massive canyon.
"If you stand on the rim of the Grand Canyon today, the bottom of the ancestral canyon would have sat over your head, incised into rocks that have since been eroded away," said Flowers. The ancestral Colorado River was likely running in the opposite direction millions of years ago, she said.
When the canyon was formed, it probably looked like a much deeper version of present-day Zion Canyon, which cuts through strata of the Mesozoic era dating from about 250 million to 65 million years ago, Wernicke said. From 28 million to 15 million years ago, a pulse of erosion deepened the already-formed canyon and also scoured surrounding plateaus, stripping off the Mesozoic strata to reveal the Paleozoic rocks visible today, he said.
The prevailing belief is that the canyon was incised by an ancient river about six million years ago as the surrounding plateau began rising from sea level to th
|Contact: Rebecca Flowers|
University of Colorado at Boulder