Tuesday, December 4, 2012

That Giant Grand Hole Cutting Across Northern Arizona is Sparking Debate Again!

Image - National Geographic

This is one of the most kool places on Earth. My favourite time of the year to visit the Grand Canyon is during the monsoon rainy season which officially hits Arizona on July 4th Weekend. Anyone who has ever stood along the rim and looked down and all around mostly likely has wondered, "What was it that made this Canyon ?" - "What forces of the Natural World accomplished this amazing wonder ?"  Too bad the dogmatic bickering Ideologues from both sides of the religious issue cloud any real truths on such natural wonders! A New recent study published in the journal
Science this past Thursday, November 29, 2012, suggests the western Grand Canyon formed 70 million years ago. Some Scientists in 2008 disagreed and believed the Canyon was mainly carved by the Colorado River at about 40 to 50 millions years ago  (Science Daily 2008)  Other researchers, as last weeks article mentioned said the Canyon was only formed in the past 5 to 6 million years ago. Not long ago there were other Scientists who were saying the Grand Canyon was only 700,000 or younger in years old. (Science Daily 2002 - "Grand Canyon Is Geologic Infant") So who in the world do you believe ? Apparently it depends on what worldview and ideological prejudicial bias you consider your comfort zone. What else accounts for these endless ongoing fruitless debates ? There are clearly any number religio-faith-based beliefs even among Geologist and other scientists, as there are in all the usual bickering conventional religious worldviews. To get a healthier understanding of this subject matter, there are numerous other components we should consider (besides Rock dating reference in the article as proof), and these have almost always been clearly ignored in most of the ongoing studies & arguments. Quite simply, what do you see way up stream and way down stream ?  So lets analyze some important quotes from that article.
Actual Study:
Public Article: 
Yahoo News Article:
Yahoo-News: "Study contends Grand Canyon as Old as Dinosaur Era"
Science Daily's take on the subject:
I won't even attempt to reprint the entire Nov 29, 2012 Science article as you may open it up from the links above and read it all for yourselves. I'll post some important quotes and make a few important observations of my own. Keep in mind I'm not an expert on any of this, but I'm not a blind idiot either. One of the interesting things mentioned in the article was that this Team used a dating method that supposedly exploits the radioactive decay of uranium and thorium atoms to helium atoms in a phosphate mineral known as 'Apatite'. Recently a similar type of dating method called the New Helium-Zircon Dating Technique was used in proving the Salton Buttes volcano field at the southern end of the Salton Sea were not 30,000+ years old as once thought, but rather they last erupted twice around 0 BC and 940 CE. Evidently the older age view of Salton Buttes was 3000% wrong. The funny thing though, and for the sake of argument, lets say this mineral 'Apatite' is indeed millions of years old, that tells us nothing about when and how old the actual Grand Canyon is. I have ZERO problems with date of materials, even the entire Universe may have materials billions of years old. But actual date of materials is of no consequence to the actual date and construct of an actual Grand Canyon formation or creation event itself. On a related note with regards dating methods and potential problems, there was an interesting piece presented on the same date released by the online science news reporting site -  Phys-Org Nov 30, 2012, Adrian Melott, professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Kansas, presented his argument that the spike from a Coronal Mass Ejection  anomaly ( CME ). apparently this CME could have been 10 to 20 times larger than the largest known spike to have occurred in recent times (1859) which is called the Carrington Event
(Phys.org) Abstract 
—Until recently, the years 774 and 775 were best known for Charlemagne's victory over the Lombards. But earlier this year, a team of scientists in Japan discovered a baffling spike in carbon-14 deposits within the rings of cedar trees that matched those same years. Because cosmic rays are tied to carbon-14 concentrations, scientists around the world have wondered about the cause: a nearby supernova, a gamma ray burst in the Milky Way or an intense superflare emanating from the Sun?
Here's the bottom line as I see it now. Will such findings spur further questions in open-minded Physicists and Geologists ? For example, if these CME anomalies or other cosmic forces could dramatically increase Carbon-14 production in the atmosphere, what does that do to the calibration profile for radiocarbon dating method ? What could be the impact of a large shower of cosmic rays on Atomic clocks used for radiometric dating in general ? Could a cosmic event stimulate accelerated nuclear decay, lowering the activation threshold to give a false reading of longer age, than actually occurred ? And if that is the case how would you know for sure ? Questions, Questions, Questions, Questions! 

Image - Michael Lamb CalTech
For the sake of argument, let's say this 70 million is accurate. Maybe I could illustrate it this way. Back in 2002, there was a huge rainfall period that was marked by massive flooding. In a matter of three days a canyon was carved out from an overflow breach at Canyon Lake Reservoir on the Guadalupe River to breach and spillover in Central Texas flooding . Most major roads were washed out and huge bridges ripped up and spit out. Some areas had deep abyss-like canyons carved down to the bedrock from what once existed before. If someone came along say 1000 years later and viewed some of these still existing deep eroded cuts and let's say for some strange reason there was no written historical record of the event, they decided to figure when the canyon was formed by testing the age of this deep crevice by it's  mineral geology rock content at the bottom of the wash. Obviously the mineral could well test millions of years, but would these results cause them to conclude a 2002 Storm event or rather an inaccurate millions of years ideological take ? See, this is the problem here and much to their credit they do admit this problem in the article. Becky Oskin of Live Science focused on the controversy, admitting that from the rim of the Grand Canyon, it still, "looks young". Below she quotes Geologist Richard Young.
"It really looks like they're onto something, but it's hard to make sense of it," said Young, a professor at the State University of New York in Geneseo. "It's really good work and it's really interesting, so obviously there's something we're missing in the story. I'm sure we're going to be talking about this forever," he said.
Even the  University of Colorado press release  said much the same thing about this controversy and admitted that Rebecca M  Flowers may be only partially correct. 
"Flowers said there is significant controversy among scientists over the age and evolution of the Grand Canyon. A variety of data suggests that the Grand Canyon had a complicated history, and the entire modern canyon may not have been carved all at the same time. Different canyon segments may have evolved separately before coalescing into what visitors see today."
Controversy indeed. The same article published in the Washington Post  highlighted some of the skeptics controversy from other scientists. The concerns and skepticism comes from other researchers who've been studying the entire Colorado Plateau for years, even several decades.
“It is simply ludicrous,” said Karl Karlstrom, 61, a professor of geology at the University of New Mexico who has made more than 50 river trips through the canyon — one with Flowers, when she chipped her samples off the canyon walls — and helped create the Trail of Time exhibit for the National Park Service.
“We can’t put a canyon where they want to put it at the time they want to put it,” said Richard Young, a geologist at SUNY Geneseo who has been studying the Grand Canyon for four decades.
Of course setting aside the dating game, one of the questions would be,  "what forces were at play and how long did it take to create this canyon ?" No one really knows for certain and of course neither do I. However, there are some fascinating clues. For decades most visitors have been fed the popular Fable that the Colorado River carved this canyon slowly over a period of millions upon millions of years. For most visiting folks it seems a satisfying answer for which they can take it or leave it, yet as time has progressed so have some pertinent things science has discovered about Geology and the understanding of how quick and rapid erosion can actually work on seemingly solid mountains. Here is the link - Mountains Crumble Fast, even Catastrophically and the University of Arizona studies which reference John Wesley Powell's writings in 1895 who wrote:
 "... what a conflict of water and fire there must have been[in western Grand Canyon]! Just imagine a river of molten rock running down over a river of melted snow." 
Science Daily: History Of Quaternary Volcanism And Lava Dams In Western Grand Canyon
credit Oregon State

Lava flows from Uinkaret Plateau
The idea being of course that lava emptying into the canyon create lava dams which backed the river up and it eventually breached in a single catastrophic event. This proposed idea is nothing new as there are several areas in the states of Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and California where ancient lake beds once existed and the area of breach has been identified where below all manner of catastrophic erosion is evident. Take for example Death Valley and the Lake Manly breach - http://digital-desert.com/westside-road/lake-manly.html So it would not be too far fetched to assume a similar scenario for the creation of Grand Canyon.

Wikipedia map

Evidence of an ancient terracing anomaly along  shoreline of Lake Manly
But even Professor of Geology, Karl Karlstrom is a strong advocate of what is known as rapid geologic canyon carving. He believes in a more rapidly carved Grand Canyon as referenced here in an article from the online journal Amazing Planet , by Staff writer Brett Israel -  June 10, 2010
Amazing Planet: "Canyons Form Quickly, Recent Gusher Suggests"
Even Megaflood Scenarios of gigantic canyon formation and continental splitting are supported by some researchers from other areas around the globe: 
Live Science: "Megaflood Created Great Divide Between Britain and France"

(US News Illustration/iStock)

Another huge problem I see in all of this present controversy is an undisciplined Media Press Corp sensationalizing a story through embellishments and exaggerations for the purpose of selling a story and no doubt an further attempt at some sort of ideological indoctrination. Take for example the use of illustrations used in this subject article in U.S. News. It is meant as a means of swaying people into believing in their version of factoidal storytelling as fact, as opposed to the evidence. The headline given to readers over at New Scientist  by reporter Joanna Carver, had this sensational title which was something like the US 

Illustration Credit: Daily Mail Online UK
Area of Longstanding Natural Beauty: Grand Canyon is actually 65million years older than thought (and was created when dinosaurs roamed the earth)
In the article written in online journal New Scientist referenced above, the same News Reporter, Joanna Carver clearly tries to appeal to the emotions and imaginations of the readers with this in the New Scientist report  
"Picture the scene. It's late in the Cretaceous period. 70 million years. A group of dinosaurs have gathered at the rim of what will become known as the Grand Canyon. They're gawping over the edge, just as humans will in millennia to come." - That might not be complete fantasy."
Well yes, Joanna, it most likely is fantasy. This is of course nothing new. The problem of Press and Media embellishments when it comes to sensationalizing and exaggerating scientific reports have been a real problem for some time. Not to focus too much attention on this anymore, but you can read about this clearly hard core problem of inaccurate and even dishonest reporting here in an article from Nature online magazine titled * (further references in footnote below)
"Cheerleader or watchdog?" (Nature June 25, 2009)
Real quick, one more final thought and then I'm through with this subject matter. The problem with these embellishments and exaggerations (basically lies) is they can damage credibility of the researcher if they don't step up to the plate and make corrections which counter what the Reporter misstated. Below is a link to the National Park Service website which clearly states there were never ANY Dinosaur Fossils found in the Grand Canyon. Yet, that is not the thought conveyed in many of these less than honest Press Room News Releases.
Quote from the 1st Paragraph:
"What about dinosaur fossils ? Not at the Grand Canyon! The rocks of the canyon are older than the oldest known dinosaurs. To see the dinosaur fossils, the Triassic-aged Chinle Formation on the Navajo Reservation and at Petrified Forest National Park is the nearest place to go." 
Even still, despite older rocks, the storyline has been Dinosaurs were present and that apparently is not the case, as some type of fossil bone remnants would have been found as evidence somewhere around the extremely large area no matter how old the geology is. Never underestimate the power of media to comfort & massage a good warm and fuzzy worldview.
Okay, shifting some gears here on some other aspects that these  stories generally don't cover because they are strictly shackled to the deep canyon floor. Quite often when I have seen controversial studies on specifically the Grand Canyon, their focus is so narrowed on the canyon itself, yet nothing about the geology up or down stream as I mentioned before. Let's take a look at the Colorado River Drainage area in the western United States. Just the state of Utah alone has countless canyons which are mini-replicas of the Grand Canyon, not to mention the other states like Colorado and New Mexico. Could it not be said that the same natural forces or event which created the Grand Canyon, also created these at the same time ? And what about down stream, despite the reverse river flow speculations. Where did all that debris go to ? Funny, if you look at the present delta itself, you won't find all the debris from those upper regions. Much of it can be found in eastern San Diego County, Riverside and parts of San Bernardino counties. How could that be ? On this note, here is a photograph of a region I visited last year in Anza Borrego State Park. The area I visited is called the Arroyo Tapiado Mud Caves region of the Carrizo Badlands. Here's my photo below.

image: Mine

Anza Borrego Foundation: Arroyo Tapiado Mud Caves Geology
This area below is far removed from the modern day Colorado River. It is far west of the Salton Sea and south of Ocotillo Wells. The road above here is S-2 in San Diego County and this is the Carrizo Badlands Overlook. The light coloured hills and geology below are different from the decomposed granite bedrock of the mountains behind it towards the west to the left in the pic. Important quote from the Anza Borrego Foundation website linked above which you will also find in literature and a Park Monument plaque at this location in the Anza Borrego State Park. It has important clues as to possible Grand Canyon formation history and the catastrophic event which created it. 
Anza Borrego Foundation: Arroyo Tapiado Mud Caves Geology
"The magnificent ruin of the landscape, an inside look exposing an array of soft sedimentary layering from the Pliocene Epoch. Obvious evidence of deposition from Colorado River delta silts, to lake muds, to floodplain sands, stream-channel sands and gravel, and outfalls of Volcanic Ash. An astonishing assemblage of Fossil resources is held within these other-worldly dry and wrinkled mud hills."
The  Anza Borrego Desert State Park Paleontology  had this to say and add as to the types of creatures found in these fossil beds. 
" . . a significant population of large herbivores such as horses, llamas, camels, ground sloths, and mammoths. Saber tooth cats, and giant short-faced bears, among other formidable carnivores . . "
There are a number of fascinating clues and points mentioned  in  the literature here. Aside from the types of fossils of animals who once lived long ago is the fact that Volcanic Ash is mentioned as being associated with these finds. Interestingly, there are no nearby volcanoes in this area. Though the Salton Buttes volcanic fields are close by to the east at the south end of the present day Salton Searecent research has revealed they are only a couple thousand years old.  It was said that the Colorado River flood plains deposited this material, yet the present Colorado River Delta and flood plains are well over a 100 miles away. It did say however that the material sediments ended up there during the Pliocene Epoch. This is interesting in that from online sources, this supposed period of history is anywhere from around 5.3 to 2.6 millions years old. Certainly a far cry from the 70 million age controversy and closer to what others have speculated. These sediments are soft powdery material similar to the Grand Canyon Sandstones & Limestones  found there today and which exist on the Imperial Valley floor today. Clearly not the same materials which make up the mountains to the west. Take a quick interesting look at this animation of the on and off formation of the Salton Sea (ancient Lake Cahuilla) and the Colorado River flood plains influence provided by the Redlands Institute.

But the Volcanism Ash anomaly I think is important. Once again, there are no volcanoes in this specific area of Vallecito-Carrizo  Badlands which are located backed up to the Laguna Mountains to the west and far above in elevation from the Imperial Valley. Take a look at this map below of the entire Colorado River Drainage Basin.

Image - Colorado Drainage Basin map

Much of this area in an eroded rugged landscape which looks very similar to the Grand Canyon Geological features. Getting back to the Volcanic Ash mixed in with fossils and sediments, could the event and mechanism which carved the Grand Canyon have been some sort of Mega-Lahar mudflow, which is a river of massive amounts of water and hot volcanic ash muds ? Of course the next question that begs is, from what sources & direction would such Mega-Lahar mud flows come from ? Take a look at the map above once again. Anyone know what volcanic geological feature exists at the top of this drainage basin area which runs straight north along the Green River  ? It's called Yellowstone. The area is loaded with geothermal hot springs. Incredibly the USGS says that the last eruption was said to be 70,000 years ago. Then if you look on that map and move towards the east, there is a volcanic caldera feature called the La Garita Volcano and this entire area is an ancient volcanic system. In fact, like Yellowstone, there is a famous geothermal hot springs called Pagosa Springs, Colorado. This area is the headwaters of the San Juan River which is a major tributary of the Colorado River. I have in the past seen some research papers which suggest these two regions of Geothermal Hotsprings are directly connected to the Earth's deep mantle and there may be plumes. Still, this again is speculation.

Before I move on, I'd like to point out something else that is truly fascinating and goes hand in hand with the possible Mega-Lahar mud flow volcanic ash extinction scenario. Back on November 26, 2012, Yahoo News reported on a Live Science article of an area in Turkey where Rhino Fossils were found where the animals had been caught up in some type of Volcanic Ash pyroclastic mud flow event which literally instantly cooked the animals to death and buried them where they became fossil evidence for us today. Not only that but the timeline whether or not agreed with is all along the same era or epoch. Frankly I'm actually amazed at the uncanny similar line of evidence which has been reported on all at the same time here in late November 2012.  Coincidence ? There is a line out of the old TV Series called A-Team, where Colonel John "Hannibal" Smith, uses an old favourite catch phrase, "I love it when a plan comes together".  Well, this certainly seems to be the case lately this year. So many countless long etched in stone  established doctrines of the Scientific Orthodoxy have been challenged and proven very inaccurate. 
Yahoo News: Rhino 'Cooked to Death' 9 Million Years Ago, Fossil Reveals
Ultimately I must admit, I also really don't know the full truth of matters. But it's still fun and interesting. All I can do like everyone else is speculate, assume and assert what may or may not have been the forces at work. Again, not problem with dates of materials, even though newer info brings to light many problems. It's mostly a timing source for me and what those actual forces were. Clearly what ever occurred happened rapidly and wiped out life and buried it, even within the canyon itself. Could deep underground hotspot springs have been unleashed all at once and explained a combination of Lahars and atmospheric ash release which would have also been a catalyst for some short term mega rainfall flooding event ?  Clearly there is evidence of massive plate tectonics activity of lift and subduction as well. This and other speculations are ultimately up to each individual. If readers are wondering why I have commented here on Earth's Internet on such a topic, it's mostly because, even though I may have no clue whatsoever as to actual events and mechanisms here, I clearly am fascinated by the subject never the less and I always question what doesn't make sense. Of all the things in science I love to work with, I supposed you could say I look at things from a Biomimetics or Biomimicry point of view. I'm always looking for real world practical applications with regards to discovery of Natural World things and things I personally observe in the field.

Image - Syracuse Media Photo

In the future when you visit this amazing awe inspiring Natural Wonder, forget all the ideologues and the political hate debates on both sides. Just enjoy life for a change. You'll unfortunately be thrown back into that mix when you head back home to the city when your vacation is over. For the moment when on holiday here, just drift away and enjoy the Nature of it all.
Image - Ann Japenga
Further References of Interest:
For a great unbiased neutral read on the present Grand Canyon argument here is a take from Wayne Ranney (Geologist, Writer & Trail Guide of Arizona) 
Wayne Ranny's Blog: "The Latest Big Controversy on the Age of the Grand Canyon"
Nature Online Magazine 
"In the first of three essays, Toby Murcott argues that the process of science needs to be opened up if journalists are to provide proper critique."
Nature.com: Science Journalism: Toppling the Priesthood"
Nature Online Magazine (Full Article Behind Paywall)
 "In the second of three essays, Boyce Rensberger tracks the progression of scientific correspondents from cheerleaders to watchdogs"
Nature.com: "Science Journalism: Too Close for Comfort"

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