Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The bizarre "barbed tributaries" of Marble Canyon

Above is a beautiful image taken from the platform of the space shuttle Discovery in 1985, showing the Grand Canyon in November (south is at the top of this image, and north is at the bottom).  This image is not only breathtaking, but also clearly reveals many of the important pieces of geological evidence about the Grand Canyon which support a catastrophic mechanism for its creation, as opposed to the uniformitarian explanations which are commonly foisted upon the public.

Specifically, these pieces of evidence are features which Dr. Walt Brown discusses in the chapter of his book in which he discusses the Grand Canyon and the facts there which support his hydroplate theory, a theory which proposes that almost all of the geological features of our planet were shaped in the events surrounding a catastrophic global flood.  In that chapter, he proposes that the Grand Canyon was formed when waters trapped after the flood in two huge lakes (which he names "Grand Lake" and "Hopi Lake") breached and poured out with tremendous violence, carving the awe-inspiring wonder of the world that we know today.

Some of the evidence which can be seen in the NASA image which refute the standard explanation that the Colorado River gradually carved out the Grand Canyon over millions of years include the Colorado River's dramatic "right turn" in which it plows right through the massif of the Kaibab Plateau (which is labeled in the image below), as well as the many mysterious canyons that lead into the path that the Colorado River takes but which seem to have no perceptible source.  

Previous posts have discussed the formation of the Grand Canyon and the way that Dr. Brown's theory can explain the path right through the Kaibab Plateau (while conventional theories have great difficulty explaining this geological fact).  To revisit some of the previous discussion of the Grand Canyon and surrounds, see for example:
Let's now examine these mysterious side canyons, which this superb space shuttle image make so easy to see, in a bit more detail.

In a section entitled "Side Canyons" on this page of his online book in the chapter on the Grand Canyon, Dr. Brown explains some of the enigmatic features of these side canyons which make them very difficult to account for if using conventional uniformitarian theories of gradual erosion by the Colorado River:
Dozens of large side canyons intersect the main trunk of Grand and Marble Canyons and cut down to the level of the Colorado River. These side canyons also have their own side canyons, all connected like branches on a big, bushy tree. Surprisingly, most side canyons, at least today, have no source of water that could have carved them—or basins above that could have held much water.  
Even more difficult to explain is the direction of some of these side canyons, which some geologists call "barbed" canyons, because they come into the main river path from what would seem to be the "wrong direction."  Dr. Brown writes:
A few side canyons are “barbed.” That is, they connect to the main canyon “backwards,” similar to the barbs in barbed wire or fishhooks. Tributaries almost always enter rivers at acute angles, but the barbed canyons are oriented at obtuse angles. Very strange.15 What happened? 
The footnote is to a description from a book by geologist, trail guide and author Wayne Ranney, entitled Carving Grand Canyon:  Evidence, Theory, and Mysteries, in which Mr. Ranney writes:
Additionally, in Marble Canyon, many tributary streams come into the Colorado River flowing generally to the north, against the southerly flow of the modern river. This creates a pattern of drainage known to geologists as "barbed" tributaries. The Marble Platform, into which the tributaries have been carved, also slopes down to the northeast exactly opposite the flow direction of the modern river.  23.
The image below (same NASA image, with additional markings and labels) points out a two of these barbed canyons.  Note that they are intersecting the main channel of the Colorado from south to north, even though the Colorado River is flowing from north to south:

Strictly speaking, as noted in Mr. Ranney's quotation above, these barbed canyons are found in the portion of the overall canyon complex known as Marble Canyon, which is the name given to the canyon section between Lee's Ferry and the point where the Little Colorado River comes into the path of the Colorado River (see map below):

Note, of course, that unlike the previous two images, this map is oriented with north at the top rather than at the bottom.  The barbed canyons along the path of Marble Canyon are clearly visible, especially along the section of Marble Canyon just south of the arrow indicating the location of Lee's Ferry.

So, what could account for these strange barbed canyons, which appear from no apparent source and enter the Colorado River and the main channel of the canyon from a generally south-to-north angle instead of coming in the same way that the river flows, namely north-to-south?  

The standard uniformitarian answer involves, of course, long periods of time, and posits that drainage plain between the Kaibab Plateau and the canyon allowed the runoff from occasional thunderstorms to gather itself together into channels that flowed from south-to-north, and that the drainage plain on the other side, between the canyon and the Vermillion and Echo Cliffs, did the same thing.  The Vermillion and Echo Cliffs are the line of cliffs through which the tell-tale "funnel" feature can be seen to erupt -- Lee's Ferry is right in the middle of this funnel.

This uniformitarian explanation relies on the idea that the line of the Vermillion and Echo Cliffs slowly retreats to the northeast, due to erosion, while the hump of the Kaibab Plateau remains anchored in place.  This northward retreat causes the water to run generally from the higher ground in the direction of the Kaibab towards the lower ground in the direction of the retreating cliffs -- thus, the runoff from the annual wet season goes towards the north.  

That is certainly one possible explanation.  Readers should examine the evidence closely and see whether it fits what is seen "on the ground," and whether does a better job than other theories at explaining the features in the area, including the cliffs, the funnel, Marble Canyon itself, and the deep barbed canyons running into it from the south on either side.  

This and other competing explanations should be compared against the detailed explanation offered by Dr. Brown in his book -- one aspect of his book that I think is very laudable is Dr. Brown's comparison of competing explanations, which he tries to present as fairly as possible.  He then points out evidence that each theory (including his own) has difficulty explaining, and evidence that each theory explains well.

This webpage from Dr. Brown's online book gives a detailed explanation, with terrific photographs, of the geology of Marble Canyon, and the forces that he believes created its incredible features, including the barbed canyons.  

He explains that the Vermillion and Echo Cliffs were originally joined in one long cliff-line, which was uplifted as a reaction to the sinking down of the newly-formed Rocky Mountains further west (the Rockies having been created by the violent buckling of the hydroplates that had been sliding away from the rupture in the earth's crust that started the flood to begin with -- this previous post explains why the principles of physics tell us that the creation of huge mountain ranges such as the Rockies require more force than the tectonic theory can muster).  

The huge lakes trapped on this uplifted Colorado Plateau during the recovery phase after the flood (after the floodwaters drained into the ocean basins -- creating huge submarine canyons still visible today and difficult to explain by uniformitarian theories) eventually breached, starting with the northern of the two lakes, a breach which created the huge funnel clearly visible in the map above in the middle of which is Lee's Ferry.  This breaching water did not carve Marble Canyon; rather, it blasted away all the soft sedimentary layers (the ones that uniformitarians call the "mesozoic" layers) in the path of the funnel, stripping away down to the harder and more brittle limestone below.

Dr. Brown explains:
Suddenly, Grand Lake breaches a point on its bank and catastrophically erodes the soft Mesozoic sediments, forming a gigantic spillway—a steep, 18-mile-long channel shaped like a widening funnel. The escaping water’s large volume and high velocity erodes the far end of the funnel within weeks to a width of 12 miles and a depth of 2,000 feet.

Marble Canyon. The originally horizontal sedimentary layers below the floor of the funnel steadily arch upward as weight is removed by this downward erosion. Eventually, the funnel’s floor—hard, brittle Kaibab Limestone—cracks in tension, splitting open the entire floor parallel to the funnel’s axis, forming Marble Canyon. [See Figure 121.] 
Dr. Brown explains that the removal of all that earth in the funnel allowed subsurface water to gush out the newly-formed cliff-sides of the funnel, and down into the floor of the funnel, where it created a maze of tiny tributaries flowing into the crack that we call Marble Canyon.  However, the upward-arching action of the hard limestone floor that followed the removal of the sediments above and created the crack in the first place also created a north-to-south slope for that water to follow.  

As these torrents flowed together, they ran into "sinkholes" created by subsurface waters that were spilling down into the crack of Marble Canyon.  These sinkholes were actually "sink-canyons," as an examination of the weirdly collapsed layers seen in Dr. Brown's Figure 124 (linked in his paragraph quoted above) reveals.  The subsurface water spilling into Marble Canyon created sink-canyons (the same way that sinkholes form in limestone in other parts of North America, such as the southeast), which invited the torrents of water that was spilling out of the cliff-sides of the funnel onto the funnel floor, and these torrents of water further deepened those sink-canyons that became the barbed canyons we see today.  They intersect the crack of Marble Canyon from a south-to-north direction because the upward-arching of the funnel-floor after the softer Mesozoic sediments were removed was greater at the wider end of the funnel than at the narrow end of the funnel.

Further evidence to support this theory can be seen in the tipped layers at the base of the cliffs on either side of the "funnel," which Dr. Brown shows clearly in his Figure 120 and explains in the caption beneath.

The reader is invited to compare all the possible explanations for the very distinctive series of geological phenomena surrounding Marble Canyon and its barbed canyons.  Ask yourself which explanation does the best job of accounting for the truly bizarre features of these barbed canyons, the size and shape of the funnel itself, and the dramatic upward-arching of the layers in the cliffs that form the sides of the funnel.

Note that even if the reader decides that the uniformitarian explanation does a better job (and I personally think that would be a dubious conclusion), that still leaves the mystery of the Grand Canyon's pathway through the Kaibab Plateau to explain, as well as the origin of the Little Colorado River and its own (less distinctive) funnel region.  These geological features are comprehensively explained by the hydroplate theory account, but not by the conventional explanation for the barbed canyons.

I believe that the fantastic barbed canyons of the Marble Canyon region of the Grand Canyon complex are an often-overlooked but extremely powerful argument in support of Dr. Brown's theory.