The Grand Canyon may have been around during the time of the dinosaurs, which is much older than scientists previously thought.
New U.S. research suggests that the Grand Canyon was carved out 70 million years ago instead of the more commonly accepted 5 to 6 million years ago.
“There has been a resurgence of work on this problem over the past few years because we now have some new techniques that allow us to date rocks that we couldn’t date before,” said study co-author Rebecca Flowers at the University of Colorado Boulder in a press release.
The research team studied a mineral called apatite from the bottom of the western part of the canyon. In apatite, uranium and thorium atoms decay into helium, and the helium can be used to determine how the rock’s temperature changed over time.
“Knowing not just how much helium is present in the grains but also how it is distributed gives us additional information about whether the rocks had a rapid cooling or slow cooling history,” Flowers explained.
When they analyzed the temperature history, they could figure out how the topography changed over time. They found that the western part of the canyon seemed to be 70 million years old.
However, the whole canyon probably isn’t that old, since different parts may have formed at different times. Over the years, scientists have come up with many possible ages for the Grand Canyon.
“I expect that our interpretation that the Grand Canyon formed some 70 million years ago is going to generate a fair amount of controversy,” Flowers said. “If it were simple, I think we would have solved the problem a long time ago.”
“But the variety of conflicting information has caused scientists to argue about the age of the Grand Canyon for more than 150 years.”
The study was published in Science on Nov. 30.
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