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The formation and age of the grand canyon

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http://www.scenic.com/visitor-information/grand-canyon/history | The Grand Canyon is one of nature’s wonders, drawing millions of visitors every year from around the globe. Learn how the canyon was formed and about the ongoing debate among scientists about the true age of this massive “hole in the ground.”

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The formation and age of the grand canyon

  1. 1. The Formation and Age of the Grand Canyon The Grand Canyon is a geological marvel, drawing millions of visitors every year from around the world. It’s no wonder—the canyon’s brilliant layers of red rock make this giant “hole in the ground” a stunning sight. Visitors can choose from a huge range of activities in the Grand Canyon, including river rafting, hiking, camping, Grand Canyon tours by bus, and awe-inspiring helicopter tours. Those who are physically able may attempt a hike into the canyon, while others who want an easy stroll can hike along the rim. So, just how exactly did the canyon form and when? We’ll explore these and other questions below. Far, Deep, and Wide At 277 miles long, and up to 18 miles wide in some places, the Grand Canyon is quite literally an enormous hole in the ground. The canyon is a mile deep (over 5,000 feet) in some places, and is so enormous it can be seen from space. Because there are such huge variations in elevation in different parts of the canyon (rim to floor), the area boasts an impressive diversity of plants and wildlife. In fact, five different ecosystems occurring between Mexico and Canada can all be found in the park, including: Boreal Forest Ponderosa Forest Pinyon-Juniper Woodland Desert Scrub Riparian (along the river) The area is home to more than 1,750 plant species, 17 fish species, 57 species of amphibians and reptiles, 91 mammal species, 373 bird species, and more than 8,400 insect species.1 How Old Is the Grand Canyon? Scientists have hotly debated this question for more than a century. The big controversy has been over when exactly the river started cutting through the rocks. Experts originally thought it started 5-6 million years ago, but later studies revealed geologic evidence suggesting that it may have begun much earlier—as much as 70 million years ago. There are several dating techniques scientists use to estimate the age of rocks, but interpreting the data can yield wildly different estimates between scientists. It seems that the jury is still out in terms of the canyon’s true age, but one thing is fairly certain: Some parts of the canyon are older than others. Age of the Canyon vs. Age of the Rocks One important distinction is the age of canyon itself versus the age of the rocks that make up the canyon walls. The rocks themselves are estimated at around two billion years old, while the canyon itself has been around only for millions of years (as mentioned above, there is no consensus on exactly how many millions of years).
  2. 2. How Was the Canyon Formed? It’s hard to believe that the giant chasm that is now the Grand Canyon was carved out over time by water, but scientists largely agree that this is the primary mechanism by which the canyon was formed. Other factors that contributed the canyon’s formation include wind erosion, frost heaving, plate tectonics, and volcanism. Tourism Statistics There’s no doubt that the Grand Canyon is an important source of revenue for the state of Arizona—in fact, in 2011, 4.3 million visitors to the park spent more than $467,000,000 and supported 7,361 jobs.2 Beyond its income-generating potential, the Grand Canyon offers visitors from all over the world a glimpse into a world unlike anything else—a priceless experience for many. The Grand Canyon will undoubtedly continue to inspire millions more in the years to come.