A Karst Connection model for Grand Canyon, Arizona, USA


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A new model for the connection of the eastern and western Grand Canyon is proposed that involves westward flow of Redwall karst aquifer water under the Kaibab arch along the steepest hydraulic gradient to discharge at a structural low in a headward-eroding protowestern Grand Canyon. A karst-aquifer hydrological connection was first established between the eastern and western Grand Canyon, then collapse, incision, and headward erosion of the canyon followed this subterranean route. This proposed model is based on what is happening today on the northern Marble Platform where the Redwall–Muav aquifer is still intact. The three sinkhole/caves Ah Hol Sah, Indian Pit, and Black Abyss provide vertical flow routes down to the Redwall karst aquifer, joining water discharging from the Kaiparowits hydrologic basin to the Colorado River along the Fence Springs system. Projecting this process back in time and spatially southward, we propose that at around 6 Ma a sinkhole or sinkholes existed at the confluence of the Colorado River with the Little Colorado River. Little Colorado River water, then flowing northward to an interior lake basin (“Glen Lake”) in southern Utah, became pirated down this sinkhole(s), thus causing a reversal of drainage (barbed tributaries) in Marble Canyon. Headward erosion then proceeded up Marble and Little Colorado Canyons from the collapsing sinkhole, with Marble Canyon incision breaching Glen Lake at around 5.5 Ma. This effected the “final connection” and total integration of the Colorado River from Colorado to the Gulf of California.

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