More than a billion years missing from the Great Unconformity at the Grand Canyon?


Figure 1. The Great Unconformities within Grand Canyon. The left arrow points to the contact between the Tapeats Sandstone and the igneous and metamorphic rocks below, while the middle arrow points to the contact between the Tapeats Sandstone and the eastward-tilted Grand Canyon Supergroup. The right arrow points to the contact between the Grand Canyon Supergroup and the igneous and metamorphic rock below. For the physical arrangement of these rocks see figure 2.

The Grand Canyon in northern Arizona, USA, holds numerous mysteries for the uniformitarian scientists who believe present processes can explain the rocks from the past. The 1,200 m of horizontal rocks showing on the walls of the Grand Canyon was considered to be a library of the gods by John Wesley Powell who first explored the canyon from a raft in 1869.1,2 Powell consider the walls of the Grand Canyon “a place where colourful layers of rock formed the ‘stony leaves of one great book’, in which they could read, line by line, how the universe was made.”1 In other words, Powell thought he could read the history of the earth’s geology from the horizontal layers and from the igneous and metamorphic layers below.

However, these layers present some nasty difficulties for the secular scientists, who are currently attempting to find answers. One of the difficulties is the missing time between the horizontal layers, for instance the lowest gap in time between the Precambrian rocks and the Cambrian Tapeats Sandstone above (figure 1). The Precambrian rocks included igneous and metamorphic rocks and the tilted Grand Canyon Supergroup of sedimentary rocks that represents about 4,000 m of deposition in a basin that was later uplifted and tilted with the top sedimentary rocks sheared off (figure 2). This gap in time is called the Great Unconformity and is a planation surface that is generally flat but rolling in some locations. This problem was featured recently by the BBC in the UK.1

Powell inferred that great erosion occurred to produce the Great Unconformity. He did not know how this rock was eroded, but modern geologists say the igneous and metamorphic rocks are around 1.7 billion years old.1 The Tapeats Sandstone is ‘dated’ 525 million years. And even more mysterious is that the Great Unconformity represents a global phenomenon!1 However, there can be more than one Great Unconformity in an area and each one may be local to regional in character. In the western United States, it is found near the bottom of the Grand Canyon (figure 1),3 but in Montana and Wyoming, it is found at variable elevations from near the valley and basin floors (figure 3) to the tops of some mountains about 4,000 m high that represent uplifts of the upper crust of the earth (figure 4).4 There are two Great Unconformities that show up in the Grand Canyon (figure 1): (1) between the horizontal sedimentary rocks and the igneous and metamorphic rocks below (upper arrow), and (2) between the Precambrian Grand Canyon Supergroup sedimentary rocks and the igneous and metamorphic rocks below (lower arrow).5

Two associated uniformitarian events

Figure 2. The Grand Canyon’s three sets of rocks with their thickness and presumed uniformitarian ages: (1) the horizontal Paleozoic rocks with the Tapeats Sandstone at the bottom, (2) the eastward tilted Grand Canyon Supergroup sedimentary rocks, and (3) the basement igneous and metamorphic rocks (modified from https://www.nps.gov/articles/age-of-rocks-in-grand-canyon.htm).

Two major uniformitarian events are associated with the Great Unconformity. The first is the Cambrian Explosion of organisms after the formation of the Great Unconformity “with many of the major taxonomic groups around today. It happened in the space of just 13–25 million years—an evolutionary twinkling of an eye.”1 Actually the Cambrian Explosion is more like the Cambrian Big Bang of life since numerous other extinct phyla also supposedly show up with no ancestors.6,7 In fact, some secular geologists believe the formation of the Great Unconformity was responsible for the Cambrian Explosion.8

The second event is the supposed two to four global or near global glaciations separated by melting between 717 to 580 million uniformitarian years.9,10 Some scientists say that these global glaciations eroded an average of 3,000–5,000 m of rock to produce the Great Unconformity.11 Such a feat is very unlikely.9 Besides, secular dating from Colorado, USA, claimed that the Great Unconformity formed before the global glaciations, eliminating supposed global glaciations as the cause of the Great Unconformity, at least in Colorado.12 However, another study of the Canadian Shield of northeast North America claimed that the central Shield Great Unconformity formed during the last global glaciation.13 Because of the secular dating methods, researchers concluded that the Great Unconformity was eroded at different times within the geological column.

Three suggested hypotheses

Figure 3. Contact of the Great Unconformity between upper crustal granite and the Flathead Sandstone above at the basin floor (arrow) just west of Cody, Wyoming, USA.

Indeed, the Great Unconformity is a major mystery for uniformitarian scientists:

“The Great Unconformity, a profound gap in Earth’s stratigraphic record often evident below the base of the Cambrian system, has remained among the most enigmatic field observations in Earth science for over a century.”14

Interest in solving this mystery has increased in the past decade:

“I think there’s [been] a renaissance of interest [in this geological enigma],” says Macdonald. A decade ago, there was relatively little research on The Great Unconformity and what caused it. But a surge of outlandish new theories – and the emergence of technologies capable of testing them – has transformed the field.”1
Figure 4. The Great Unconformity on the top of Mount Moran, northern Teton Mountains, Wyoming, USA with a vertical diabase dike at the top (left arrow) and a 15 m layer of tan Flathead Sandstone (Grand Canyon Tapeats Sandstone equivalent) to the right of the dike with white layer of snow on its top (right arrow).

Secular scientists almost never allow a theoretical vacuum but propose instead various hypotheses on the origin of past phenomena. Three hypotheses have been suggested for the origin of the Great Unconformity. One is that snowball Earth eroded 3,000–5,000 vertical metres of rock down to a nearly flat surface, already discussed above.

The second suggested hypothesis is tied to the amalgamation and/or break up of the supercontinent Rodinia. One version of this hypothesis suggests that the supercontinent Rodina uplifted 6,000–8,000 m.1 With the higher elevations, thousands of metres of erosion would occur forming a nearly flat surface. The sediments would end up in the oceans, where it is suggested that they started multicellular life, i.e., the Cambrian Explosion. It is admitted that there are major problems with this idea and that more research is needed.

The third mechanism is the most recent suggestion. It focuses on the Grand Canyon and proposes that there were several periods of erosion over hundreds of millions of years to form the Great Unconformity.1 These deductions are based on new techniques of thermochronology which supposedly provide a detailed history of burial and erosion based on temperature estimates of the buried rock.15 Secular geology with old ages and assumed temperatures millions of years ago below the surface are built into thermochronological methods. Various complicated tectonic episodes are weaved into the hypothesis to account for variable scenarios for the upper Great Unconformity in the Grand Canyon. It is admitted that this hypothesis also needs more work.

Further uniformitarian mysteries associated with the Grand Canyon

Figure 5. The flat Coconino/Hermit contact (arrow), North Kaibab Trail. About 10 million years are missing at this contact.

The origin of the Great Unconformity is one of many uniformitarian mysteries associated with the Grand Canyon. For instance, the walls of the Grand Canyon have many other intervals of missing time.3 These include the approximately 10 million years of missing time between the Coconino Sandstone with its large cross beds and Hermit Shale representing compacted mud (figure 5) and the 160 million years of missing time between the Muav and Redwall Limestones (figure 6). One would think that the energetic Coconino Sandstone would tear up the mud at the contact.

Another major problem is the tracing of the sedimentary rocks of the Grand Canyon for thousands of kilometres. For instance, the Tapeats Sandstone, given different names in different area, can be traced over half of North America.16 Another major problem is that there is little or no erosion between and within the walls of the Grand Canyon.16 The secular scientists claim the horizontal layers were deposited over 250 million years. Erosion in a million-year timescale is rapid; all the continents can be eroded to sea level in 10 to 50 million years.17 We should see signs of great erosion, such as canyons and valleys, in the walls of the Grand Canyon, even if it took only a million years to deposit the layers. The fact that we do not see such erosion wipes out the millions of years. Besides, deposition assuming uniformitarianism would result in small scale deposition and erosion, nothing like the large-scale deposition we observe in sedimentary rocks.

The origin of the Grand Canyon, itself, is also a major mystery.3 After well over 150 years of research, the secular scientists cannot explain it, although they have multiple, speculative hypotheses. Ranney abundantly corroborates this: “The Grand Canyon is somewhat unique among our national parks because of the lack of a single, scientific theory regarding its origin.”18

The Flood can explain the mysteries

Figure 6. Contact between Redwall and Muav Limestones (arrow) with about 150 million years missing (taken from the North Kaibab Trail).

The Great Unconformity indeed does represent great erosion that occurred early in the Flood, but how much erosion is unknown. Such erosion is what we expect at the beginning of the Flood when it was dominated by very strong currents, very heavy rain, and powerful turbulence.19 Then, after the initial catastrophism of the Flood, sediments were rapidly deposited on the Great Unconformity during the Great Deposition.20 The fact that we can trace layers in the walls of the Grand Canyon thousands of kilometres with one layer laid flat on another without periods of erosion is exactly what we expect during early sedimentation of Noah’s Flood.

After most of the Flood sediments had been deposited into fossil-rich layers, sometimes thousands of metres thick, the majority of the world’s mountains and even portions of the continents rose and the adjacent valleys sank, including the ocean basins late in the Flood year. Powerful tectonic movements helped to cause the Floodwater to drain into the oceans.17,21 The global sinking of areas and the uplift of the continents and mountain ranges at the end of the Flood explains why the Great Unconformity is now residing at the bottom of the Grand Canyon and the tops of the mountains in many mountain ranges of southern Montana and Wyoming. Late during Flood runoff, the currents became more channelized as more and more mountains and plateaus were exposed above the Floodwater. Thousands of water gaps, gorges cut through mountain ranges, plateaus, and other rock barriers, formed quickly at this time. One of these water gaps was the Grand Canyon.3,22,23 The biblical record explains the big picture of geology, including the formation of the ‘mysterious’ Great Unconformity. And this means that the ‘missing time’ never existed—a quarter of the deep-time age of the earth.

Published: 14 September 2021

References and notes

  1. Gorvett, Z., A billion years have vanished from the geological record – and over 152 years after this was first discovered, scientists can’t agree on why, www.bbc.com/future/article/20210901-the-strange-race-to-track-down-a-missing-billion-years. Return to text.
  2. Powell, J.W., The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons, Dover Publications, Inc., New York, NY, 1961. Return to text.
  3. Oard, M.J., A Grand Origin for Grand Canyon, Creation Research Society, Glendale, AZ, 2016. Return to text.
  4. Oard, M.J., The meaning of the Great Unconformity and Sauk Megasequence, J. Creation 28(1):12–15, 2014; creation.com/great-unconformity-and-sauk-megasequence. Return to text.
  5. Karlstrom, K.E. and Timmons, J.M., Many unconformities make one ‘Great Unconformity’; in: Timmons, J.M. and Karstrom, K.E. (Eds.), Grand Canyon Geology: Two billion Years of Earth’s History, GSA Special Paper 489. Geological Society of America, Boulder, CO, pp. 73–79, 2012. Return to text.
  6. Gould, S.J., Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, NY, 1989. Return to text.
  7. Oard, M.J., 1990. Review of “Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History,” S.J. Gould, Creation Research Society Quarterly 27:74–76. Return to text.
  8. Peters, S.E. and Gaines, R.R., Formation of the ‘Great Unconformity’ as a trigger for the Cambrian explosion, Nature 484:363–366, 2012. Return to text.
  9. Oard, M.J., Uniformitarian scientists claim that ‘snowball Earth’ caused the Great Unconformity, J. Creation 34(3):12–14, 2020. Return to text.
  10. Isaacs, E., ‘Snowball Earth’ out with a bang? J. Creation 34(3):5–7, 2020. Return to text.
  11. Keller, C.B., Husson, J.M., Mitchell, R.N., Bottke, W.F., Gernon, T.M., Boehnke, P., Bell, E.A., Swanson-Hysell, N.L., and Peters, S.E., Neoproterozoic glacial origin of the Great Unconformity, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 116:1,136–1,145, 2019. Return to text.
  12. Flowers, R.M., Macdonald, F.A., Siddoway, C.S., and Havranek, R., Diachronous development of Great Unconformities before Neoproterozoic snowball Earth. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 117(19):10,172–10,180, 2020. Return to text.
  13. Sturrock, C.P., Flowers, R.M., and Macdonald, F.A., The late Great unconformity of the central Canadian Shield, Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems 22(e2020GC009567):1–22,2021. Return to text.
  14. Keller et al., ref. 11, p. 1,136. Return to text.
  15. Peak, B.A., Flowers, F.M., Macdonald, F.A., and Cottle, J.M., Zircon (U-Th)/He thermochronology reveals pre-Great Unconformity paleotopography in the Grand Canyon region, USA, Geology (online version available 12 August 2021). Return to text.
  16. Oard, M.J. and Carter, R.W., Biblical Geology 101, Creation Book Publishers, Powder Springs, GA (in press). Return to text.
  17. Oard, M.J., ebook. Earth’s Surface Shaped by Genesis Flood Runoff, 2013 Michael.Oards.net/GenesisFloodRunoff.htm. Return to text.
  18. Ranney, W., Carving Grand Canyon: Evidence, Theories, and Mystery, Grand Canyon Association, Grand Canyon, AZ, p. 20, 2005. Return to text.
  19. Dickens, H., The ‘Great Unconformity’ and associated geochemical evidence for Noahic Flood erosion, J. Creation 30(1):8–10, 2016; https://dl0.creation.com/articles/p154/c15476/j30_1_8-10.pdf. Return to text.
  20. Oard, M.J. and Reed, J.K., How Noah’s Flood Shaped Our Earth, Creation Book Publishers, Powder Springs, GA, 2017. Return to text.
  21. Oard, M.J., Flood by Design: Receding Water Shapes the Earth’s Surface, Master Books, Green Forest, AR, 2008. Return to text.
  22. Scheele, P., A receding Flood scenario for the origin of the Grand Canyon, J. Creation 24(3):106–116, 2010; creation.com/grand-canyon-origin-flood. Return to text.
  23. Oard, M.J., A dam breach unlikely for the origin of Grand Canyon, Creation Research Society Quarterly 57:206–222, 2021. Return to text.

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