The Grand Canyon may actually be 70 million years old instead of six million, according to a new study by contrarian scientists. If the new theory pans out, it would mean that the massive canyon has been around since the days of dinosaurs.
The 280-mile-long chasm that stretches 18 miles wide in some places and is more than a mile deep, is an awe inspiring sight. It boasts trails on both the North and South rims with an exhibit titled the Trail of Time, reports The Washington Post.
If the 70-million-year-old Grand Canyon theory holds up, the exhibit will have to be modified to include the new information. Rebecca Flowers, a geologist at the University of Colorado, and the lead author of a paper published on Thursday by the journal Science, stated:
“Our data detects a major canyon sitting there about 70 million years ago … we know it’s going to be controversial.”
Flowers is right — about the controversy. Her research, which reconstructs what the ancient landscape looked like using thermochrohology, is not being well-met by veteran geologists who study the Colorado Plateau. Karl Karlstrom, a professor of geology at the University of Mexico who has made more than 50 river trips through the Grand Canyon, stated, “It is simply ludicrous.”
The Associated Press notes that the theories about how the Grand Canyon came into being have been debated since John Wesley Powell first navigated the rapids of the Colorado River and scouted the massive canyon’s sheer walls during an expedition in 1869.
Though the exposed rocks of the canyon date back about two billion years in places, most scientists believe that it was created when tectonic plates lifted the land that the Colorado River later carved through.
But the new claim that the Grand Canyon is 70 million years old used a new technique. Flowers and her team focused on the western end of the canyon, which is currently occupied by the Hualapai Reservation, which owns the Skywalk attraction. They crushed rocks that were collected from the bottom of the canyon to analyze a rare mineral called apatite.
The mineral is known to contain traces of radioactive elements that release helium while they decay, allowing researchers to calculate how long it has been since the canyon eroded. Their interpretation is that the canyon is actually 70 million years old and was forged by an ancient river that flowed east, unlike the Colorado’s westward direction.
While the idea that the Grand Canyon could be 70 million years old isn’t agreeable to most scientists, Utah State University geologist Joel Pederson believes that there may be a middle ground. He states that it is possible part of the Grand Canyon was cut by the smaller eastward-moving rivers but then the Colorado River finished the massive task.