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Age and Evolution of the Grand Canyon Revealed by U-Pb Dating of Water Table-Type Speleothems

Science  07 Mar 2008:
Vol. 319, Issue 5868, pp. 1377-1380
DOI: 10.1126/science.1151248

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Abstract

The age and evolution of the Grand Canyon have been subjects of great interest and debate since its discovery. We found that cave mammillaries (water table indicator speleothems) from nine sites in the Grand Canyon showed uranium-lead dating evidence for an old western Grand Canyon on the assumption that groundwater table decline rates are equivalent to incision rates. Samples in the western Grand Canyon yielded apparent water table decline rates of 55 to 123 meters per million years over the past 17 million years, in contrast to eastern Grand Canyon samples that yielded much faster rates (166 to 411 meters per million years). Chronology and inferred incision data indicate that the Grand Canyon evolved via headward erosion from west to east, together with late-stage (∼3.7 million years ago) accelerated incision in the eastern block.

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