Geology And Geophysics

The Importance of the Grand Canyon to Geologists

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"The Importance of the Grand Canyon to Geologists"
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To many people, the Grand Canyon is a breathtaking spot to visit on vacation. For Colorado River enthusiasts, it’s nature at its most ferocious. Geologists are in love with it. This attraction has been so popular that in 1997, it became one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, according to

In the geologic world, the Grand Canyon is a showplace. John Strong Newberry began geologic studies of the canyon in 1858, the Grand Canyon Association reports. Geologists remain fascinated with and continue to study the canyon today.

Amazing display

A visit to Grand Canyon National Park in northwestern Arizona is definitely intriguing. Images are constantly changing, as light creates different shadows and contrasts involving the clouds overhead and the rocks. 

Geologists who brave the violent summer storms find them breathtaking. Both sunrises and sunsets show how huge the landscape is. The view constantly changes.

History preserved

The National Park Service suggests that the biggest significance of the Grand Canyon is the preservation and exposure of the geological record. The rocks found there aren’t particularly unusual. What’s unique about this natural wonder is the huge variety of rocks available to study.

Geologists also love the way the rocks are exposed and the story they have to tell about the area. While the exact age of the Grand Canyon remains unknown, experts agree that the canyon itself is fairly recent, formed perhaps five or six million years ago. Scientists can study two sets of events:


The rocks here are older than the Grand Canyon itself.  Some date to the Paleozoic Era, which was 550 to 250 million years ago.  The canyon also contains scattered remains of Precambrian rocks that could be 2,000 million years old.  The rocks tell geologists much more about history than the canyon itself does.

Completed work shows that rocks from the Mesozoic and Cenozoic periods, dating to 250 million years ago and continuing to the present, are for the most part missing from the canyon. Experts speculate that either they were never deposited there or have been worn away.

Canyon origins

Geologists remain intrigued with how the Grand Canyon actually came to be.  They know that the Colorado River is responsible for its unusual depth.

They also know that erosion has shaped the canyon in the past, a process that continues today from rain, melting snow and tributaries that enter the river at various points.

Though the exact age of this important natural wonder remains a mystery, one thing is certain: It will continue to both grow and change as long as northwestern Arizona experiences rain and snow.

More about this author: Vonda J. Sines

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