Many type of civilization consider Grand also Canyon National Park the world’s premiere geologic landscape and a “geologic wonder”. The eroded cliffs reveal 1.7 billion years of fossils, volcanic activity, and also geologic history.
By Allykid Mathis and also Carl BowmanWith one of the clearest exposures of the rock document and also a lengthy, varied geologic background, Grand also Canyon is an ideal place to acquire a sense of geologic or “deep” time. The earliest rocks exposed in the canyon are prehistoric, 1,840 million years old. Conversely, the canyon itself is geologically young, having actually been sculpted in the last 6 million years. Even younger deposits, including ice age fossils in caves, 1,000 year-old lava flows in the western canyon, and recently deposited debris flows, carry Grand also Canyon’s geologic record to the existing.

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Park Rangers favor Stacy Wagner present geology walks and talks day-to-day at Grand Canyon National Park. Understanding the park’s organic sources is undeniably linked with its geologic history; therefore, telling geologic time is an important part of the interpretive efforts at Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona). An appreciation of geologic time places geologic topics such as geomorphology, the beginning and development of the Coloraexecute River, stratigraphy, historical geology, and also paleontology in conmessage. Unfortunately, informing geologic time is an enigma to travellers and park staff without backgrounds in Planet scientific research. Naturally a non-geoscientist might wonder, “How execute you know that?” once a geologist or interpreter says “That rock formed 270 million years back.” To include to the confusion, both technical and also popular literary works report a wide variety of numeric periods for Grand also Canyon rocks. For instance, one publication may say that the Kaibab Formation is 270 million years old, while another states 255 million years old. The exact same inconsistencies aincrease for the other rock devices in the park. At finest, readers are left wondering which are the correct (or “best”) periods and also why. At worst, they might discount the scientific procedures used to meacertain deep time.When one’s objective is sindicate to learn exactly how old a rock layer is, sorting through the subdivisions of geologic periods, the clinical names of microscopic index fossils (diagnostic assemblages of previous life), and the nuances of radiometric dating approaches is very confmaking use of.Furthermore, the majority of non-georesearchers will not find a summary of the Kaibab Formation as Leonardian or Roadian (stages) systematic. However, they will be able to comprehend the numeric worth of 270 million years (at least to the degree that geologic time is understandable).Therefore, numeric ages are crucial once interpreters and also reresource supervisors interact geology to the public and to one another. However, finding such numbers in the clinical literary works is not straightforward. Unmuch less researchers provided absolute-dating techniques in a study, only the family member geologic age (i.e., duration, date, or stage) of a rock unit is generally reported. Furthermore, the scientific files that carry out publish absolute age determinations are not constantly clear around the geologic meaning of these days.Given the inconsistencies in reported numeric eras for Grand also Canyon rocks and the challenge in determining their ages, we reregarded the technological literary works and also consulted with researchers to compile the “best” eras of Grand Canyon rocks. By “best” we mean the the majority of exact and exact periods, given the parameters of geologic dating methods and also easily accessible information from the rock record. The major audiences for this job-related were interpreters (including slrfc.org rangers, commercial guides, authors, and also publishers) and also reresource supervisors. The goal wregarding construct a single list of numeric eras that individuals can use repetitively, thereby facilitating understanding of the geologic background and features of the Grand Canyon.

Dating Rocks

Two major categories of geologic dating techniques exist: loved one dating and absolute age determicountries. Relative dating determines the order in which a sequence of geologic occasions (e.g., volcanic eruptions, mountain structure, sea-level rise, and deposition of sedimentary strata) occurred, however not just how lengthy ago the events happened. Absolute age determinations, such as radiometric age determicountries, determine as soon as, in years, particular events developed. Depfinishing on the availability of datable material (e.g., diagnostic minerals suitable for radiometric dating) and also the presence of index fossils, investigators have actually supplied both methods to discern the eras of rocks exposed in the Grand also Canyon. Sedimentary rocks, which commonly carry out not yield absolute periods, depend on relative dating, correlation, and the use of index fossils. Decaying radioenergetic isotopes in igneous and metamorphic rocks yield absolute periods.One of our concerns through the big variety eras publiburned in clinical and well-known messages is the potential to propagate outdated information and also errors. The different periods are an outcome of enhancing knowledge, both in the accuracy and also precision of geologic dating techniques, and also in refinements to the geologic time range. If interpreters and authors of basic interest publications perform not study major clinical sources for their information, a superseded date from a extensively spread, renowned publication may be erroneously cited aobtain and again. through researchers to compile the “best” periods of Grand Canyon rocks. By “best” we suppose the many precise and specific ages, provided the parameters of geologic dating techniques and obtainable information from the rock record. The primary audiences for this work-related were interpreters (consisting of slrfc.org rangers, commercial guides, authors, and also publishers) and also resource supervisors. The goal was to construct a single list of numeric ages that users could apply consistently, thereby facilitating comprehension of the geologic history and also functions of the Grand Canyon.
In Exploration of the Colorado River of the West and its Tributaries (1875) by John Wesley Powell clearly shows that early on geologists well-known the three primary packeras of rocks exposed in the Grand Canyon

The Era of Grand Canyon Rocks

Beginning through John Wesley Powell in the 1870s, geologists have actually recognized 3 primary packperiods, or “sets,” of rocks exposed in the Grand Canyon: (1) the crystalline rocks of the Inner Gorge, (2) the tilted rocks of the Grand also Canyon Superteam, and (3) the layered sedimentary rocks in the upper two-thirds of the canyon (fig. 1). As expertise of Grand also Canyon geology evolved, geologists started to determine individual layers of rocks; ultimately more than 100 formal stratigraphic names were applied to rock systems in the Grand Canyon. Because of this, our job initially forced identifying the rock systems for which numeric periods are vital. We restricted our project to the 3 all at once sets of rocks and also those rock formations or groups that interpreters and resource managers on a regular basis comment on.In an effort to not confusage our individuals, we selected the term “set” to describe Powell’s 3 main packages of rocks, bereason this term is not part of the formal stratigraphic hierarchy such as “team,” “series,” or “facility.” The three sets of rocks are categorized based on stratigraphic place, age, physical characteristics, and in its entirety geologic history (table 1, page 82). The “Vishnu Basement Rocks” (of unestablished thickness) consist of the prehistoric igneous and metamorphic rocks exposed in the Inner Gorge. The “Grand Canyon Superteam Rocks” (12,000 feet <3,600 m> thick) are late Precambrian sedimentary and also volcanic rocks primarily deposited in rifted containers. The “Layered Paleozoic Rocks” (3,000– 4,000 feet <900–1,200 m> thick) include the flat-lying sedimentary rocks in the “stair-step” canyon walls (figs. 2 and 3, peras 80–81).

Vishnu Basement Rocks

We established the informal name Vishnu Basement Rocks for every one of the primitive crystalline rocks at the bottom of the Grand Canyon because no formal nomenclature incorporates all the metamorphic systems and individual igneous plutons exposed tright here. We made a decision “Vishnu” bereason the public is familiar with the Vishnu Schist and also “basement” to indicate the type of rock assemblage and its place.The many kind of reputable radiometric age determinations of the igneous and metamorphic Vishnu Basement Rocks (e.g., Ilg et al. 1996; Hawkins et al. 1996; Karlstrom et al. 2003) promoted our determination of numeric eras for this collection. The difficulty was to interpret the geologic meaning of the dates in a coherent context for interpreters and also resource managers. We identified Grand Canyon’s earliest rock unit, the Elves Chasm Pluton (1,840 million years ago), from the remainder of the Vishnu Basement Rocks. The Elves Chasm is considerably older, at least 90 million years, than any type of other basement rock. It developed before the main tectonic collisions that developed the majority of of the various other rocks consisting of the Vishnu Basement Rocks (1,680–1,750 million years ago). We likewise determined to exclude a few younger plutons, which developed around 1,400 million years back, from the all at once age of the Vishnu Basement Rocks. These rocks postday the main tectonic events that formed this set and, though exciting, are a detail better left to the progressed examine of Grand Canyon geology

Grand also Canyon Superteam Rocks

Grand also Canyon Supergroup Rocks are primarily sedimentary. However, radiometric age determicountries of the Cardenas Basalt, ash beds, and also other datable material within the sedimentary rocks provide age constraints for this set. We had some days from paleomagnetic studThese numeric ages are a crucial translation for park managers and the public. which usage the herbal remnant magnetization in Planet materials, to even more specify the time expectancy. The Supergroup rocks preday the Cambrian Period, once hard-shelled organisms initially appeared in the fossil record, so they have actually few identifiable index fossils. Our days are bracketed by the eras of the basal Unkar Group at 1,100–1,200 million years earlier (Arizona Geological Survey, M. Timmons, individual communications, 2003–2005) and also the Chuar Group at 740–770 million years earlier (Dehler et al. 2005). No datable material has actually been found in the uppermost Sixtymile Formation (check out table 1). The Supergroup is the emphasis of energetic geologic examination, so these ages might readjust as new information becomes accessible.

Layered Paleozoic Rocks

Assigning numeric eras for systems of the Layered Paleozoic Rocks was the many difficult. Since no single stratigraphic name exists for this collection, Layered Paleozoic Rocks is also a casual term; nevertheless, their rock kind, age, and in its entirety geologic establishing normally package them together. No reputable radiometric days exist for these sedimentary rocks, so their ages are constrained by index fossils. Units through richer fossil records have more specific age constraints. After analyzing a unit’s fossil assemblperiods, researchers identify the geologic age (Beus and Morales 2003) by correlation to chronostratigraphic charts. All geologists usage the exact same standard divisions of geologic time (e.g., eras and periods). The International Stratigraphic Chart (Grandstein and also Ogg 2004; Internationwide Commission on Stratigraphy 2005) is the a lot of accurate and also up-to-day time range obtainable for global correlation of rock units. We supplied it as our basis for determining the numeric ages for rocks in Grand also Canyon National Park. However before, investigators have actually supplied many type of regional or regional scales, such as the North American Chronostratigraphic Scale, for finer subdepartments. These various other scales work well for describing regional geology but have the right to be difficult to correlate global. The connection between the North Amerihave the right to Chronostratigraphic Scale and also the International Stratigraphic Chart is not straightforward. Hence, we consulted Dr. Ronald Blaessential, a stratigrapher at Northern Arizona College, to encertain that we had arisen a set of reasonable days for the Layered Paleozoic Rocks.The other difficulty of determining the age of the Layered Paleozoic Rocks was identifying the best single number to recurrent the age of each unit. Sedimentary rocks are generally deposited over long durations of time, and also some devices exposed in Grand Canyon contain substantial gaps in the rock record, referred to as unconformities. Furthermore, many formations, in specific the Tonto Group, document marine transgressions as sea level rose, making the unit older in the west than in the eastern. Due to the fact that many developed areas of Grand also Canyon National Park are in the eastern canyon, we targeted our compilation on the age of rocks there.

Results and Distribution

We completed our original compilation of Grand Canyon rocks in 2003. Due to the fact that of refinements in the geologic time range and brand-new findings by researchers, we revised it in 2004. More revisions may be vital as expertise of Grand also Canyon geology improves, new or enhanced absolute dating methods are developed, or the geologic time scale is modified. Given the existing expertise of Grand Canyon geology, table 1 compiles our best numeric eras of its rocks.Originally, we only dispersed our age compilation to staffs at the Grand Canyon Association (GCA) and Grand Canyon National Park. Both now use the numeric eras in their interpretive programs, publications, exhibits, and also reresource management reports (fig. 4). We later on wrote a series of write-ups publimelted in Nature Notes and Boatman’s Quarterly Review. These posts, which targeted lay audiences and also Coloraexecute River guides, defined geologic dating approaches and also summarized the ages of Grand Canyon rocks. These publications even more motivated consistency among park cooperators that analyze and also otherwise connect the ages of Grand Canyon rocks.The interpretive short articles and age charts are obtainable to an even wider audience with the Tour of Park Geology Web site maintained by the slrfc.org Geologic Resources Division. The U.S. Geological Survey also provided our compilation in their Geology of National Parks Internet website.


From literature searcs, consultations via geologists, and interpretations of clinical data, we compiled the numeric eras of rocks exposed in Grand also Canyon National Park. Our age compilation offers information about the age of Grand Canyon rocks in a form systematic to interpreters, park supervisors, and also tourists. The main outcome of this job is that the ages offered for Grand also Canyon rocks are even more constant in interpretive media, park papers, and also famous GCA publications. While the compilation is our main product, the interpretive publications based on this work administer additional indevelopment about how geologists tell time and why these days are important. With this broader perspective, the age of Grand Canyon rocks becomes even more systematic. In addition, offering a continuous collection of reliable periods adds to the credibility of geologic interpretation.This job is a good instance of participation among scientists, resource managers, and also interpreters. Interpreters had a significant require for continuous, trustworthy periods for Grand also Canyon rocks, which this project filled; they also got a better expertise of geologic dating methods. With enhanced understanding, interpreters may have the ability to facilitate greater comprehension of the scientific research behind their geologic presentations. Additionally, this compilation and also accompanying background indevelopment around dating methods can aid interpreters attend to the socio-political controversy concerning deep time and development. Reresource managers advantage by having an internally consistent and also scientifically credible time range to apply to interior and outside geologic and paleontological work. Finally, functioning directly through researchers has cultivated communication and also credibility among park interpreters, reresource supervisors, and the academic community


Beus, S. S., and M. Morales, editors. 2003. Grand also Canyon geology. Second
edition. Oxford College Press, Oxford, United Kingdom.
Dehler, C. M., M. Elrick, J. D. Block, L. J. Crossey, K. E. Karlstrom, and D. J.
Des Marais. 2005. High-resolution 13 stratigraphy of the Chuar Group(ca. 770–742 Ma), Grand Canyon: Implications for mid-Neoproterozoicclimate change. Geological Society of America Bulletin 117:32–45.
how, and also wbelow next! Internationwide Union of Geological Sciences,Internationwide Commission on Stratigraphy. Available athttp://www.stratigraphy.org/scale04.pdf (accessed 13 December 2006).
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evolution of Paleoproterozoic rocks in the Grand also Canyon: Insights intomiddle-crustal procedure. Geological Society of America Bulletin108:1149–1166.
Internationwide Commission on Stratigraphy. 2005. Internationwide stratigraphic
chart. Available at http://www.stratigraphy.org/chus.pdf (accessed 13December 2006).
Karlstrom, K. E., B. R. Ilg, M. L. Williams, D. P. Hawkins, S. A. Bowring, and
S. J. Seaguy. 2003. Paleoproterozoic rocks of the Granite Gorges. Pages9–38 in S. S. Beus and M. Morales, editors. Grand also Canyon geology.2nd edition. Oxford University Press, Oxford, United Kingdom.
Mathis, A. 2006. Grand Canyon yardstick of geologic time: A guide to the
canyon’s geologic history and beginning. Grand Canyon Association, GrandCanyon, Arizona, USA.
Powell, J. W. 1875. Exploration of the Coloraexecute River of the West and also its
tributaries. Explored in 1869, 1870, 1871, and also 1872, under the directionof the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. UNITED STATE GovernmentPrinting Office, Washington, D.C., USA.


Mike Timmons (New Mexico Bureau of Geology andMineral Resources), Ron Blakey (Northern ArizonaUniversity), and also Karl Karlstrom (College of NewMexico) provided useful understanding into the rocks exposedin the Grand Canyon and helped us through our compilationof finest numeric ages. Jim F. Wood (slrfc.org GeologicResources Division) posted the results of our work-related on theNet.

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About the authors

Allyboy Mathis is a geologist by training and also worked an interpretive park rangerat several National Parks. Carl Bowman was the air high quality specialist for theGrand also Canyon National Park Science Center.