How Old is the Grand Canyon?

Study by the Univ. of CO and the CA Institute of Technology aims to debunk previous research that the canyon is only five to 6 million years old.
Sunset at Bright Angel Point on the North Rim. Photo by Whit Richardson

Sunset at Bright Angel Point on the North Rim. Photo by Whit Richardson

Parts may not be as old as previously thought

Could previous scientists estimating the age of the Grand Canyon be more than 60 million years off? A new joint study by the University of Colorado Boulder and the California Institute of Technology contend that the Grand Canyon is roughly 70 million years old, whereas previous research has stated that the Colorado River eroded the walls away between 5 million and 6 million years ago.

A new study

A study published online in the renowned journal Science, states that a river other than the Colorado chiseled away the land to form the canyon. Researchers believe that this ancient river flowed east, contrary to the Colorado's west-running water.

The study's lead researcher Rebecca Flowers knows that her group's results are controversial.

"Arguments will continue over the age of Grand Canyon," she told the Ahwatukee Foothills News in an email. "I hope our study will stimulate more work to decipher the mysteries."

Flowers is certainly right about the ensuing arguments. Geologist Karl Karlstrom of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque calls the results "ludicrous."

Karlstrom points out that the oldest gravel and sediment that washed downstream date back only 6 million years. No older deposits have been found. He also believes it unlikely that this older Grand Canyon was not further eroded over those millennia since its formation.

Both old and newer

Utah State University geologist Joel Pederson says that both hypotheses could be correct if small, older rivers did in fact cut out portions of the Grand Canyon long ago, and then the Colorado River came through and "finished the job."

Via and


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