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Dinosaurs dating methods

Dinosaurs dating methods

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The team used a technique known as radiometric dinosaur dating methods to show the Grand Canyon may have formed more than 55 million years ago, pushing back its assumed origins by 40 million to 50 million years. The researchers gathered evidence from rocks in the canyon and on surrounding plateaus that were deposited near sea level several hundred million years ago before the region uplifted and eroded to form the canyon.

A paper on the subject will be published in the May issue of the Geological Society of America Bulletin. The ancient sandstone in the canyon walls contains grains of a phosphate mineral known as apatite -- hosting trace amounts of the radioactive elements uranium and thorium -- which expel helium atoms as they decay, she said.

An abundance of the three elements, paired with temperature information from Earth's interior, provided the team a clock of sorts to calculate when the apatite grains were embedded in rock a mile deep -- the approximate depth of the canyon today -- and when they cooled as they neared Earth's surface as a result of erosion.

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Apatite samples from the bottom of the Upper Granite Gorge region of the Grand Canyon yield similar dates as samples collected on the nearby dinosaur dating methods, said Caltech's Wernicke. Small streams on the plateaus appear to have been just as effective at stripping away rock as the ancient Colorado River was at carving the massive canyon. The ancestral Colorado River was likely running in the opposite direction millions of years ago, she said.

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When the canyon was formed, it probably looked like a much deeper version of present-day Zion Canyon, which cuts through strata of the Mesozoic era dinosaur dating methods from about million to 65 million years ago, Wernicke said.

From 28 million to 15 million years ago, a pulse of erosion deepened the already-formed canyon and also scoured surrounding plateaus, stripping off the Mesozoic strata to reveal the Paleozoic rocks visible today, he said. The prevailing belief is that the canyon was incised by an ancient river about six million years ago as the surrounding plateau began rising from sea level to the current elevation of about 7, feet.

The new scenario described in the GSA Bulletin by Flowers and her colleagues is consistent with recent evidence by other geologists using radiometric dating techniques indicating the Grand Canyon is significantly older than scientists had long believed. The National Science Foundation and Caltech funded the study.

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