By Erik Hanson

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Changes in the drainage pathways on the Colorado Plateau were also important for the actual incision process. Until about 6 million years ago, streams and drainage pathways flowed onto the Colorado Plateau from its southern and southwestern margins. Water and sediments were therefore moving toward the northeast. The tectonic events that occurred around 6 million years ago caused the direction of drainage to reverse gradually, and the Colorado River now flows southwest. The rivers and streams that flow across the northern and central parts of the Colorado Plateau have flowed in their present-day directions for between 23 and 36 million years.

A buoyant portion of crustal material may have been injected into the crustal lithosphere of the Colorado Plateau between 66 and 40 million years ago. This may have contributed to the erosion-driven uplift that subsequently occurred. 6 million years ago and continued through the last 6 million years was, however, strongly driven by the decrease in the sheer weight of sediments. 6 and 6 million years ago. The incision of the Grand Canyon began 6 million years ago, and the incision was accompanied by erosion-induced uplift of most parts of the Colorado Plateau.

The Farallon plate may have somehow allowed the donation, at first, of a low-density slab of crust to the crust beneath the Colorado Plateau. The initial donation process is thought to have occurred during the time that the Farallon plate was diving, almost straight down, at a steep angle, or high angle. The angle is thought to have then decreased and become sandwiched beneath the Colorado Plateau. During this low-angle “sandwiching phase,” the Farallon plate may also have contributed to uplift by thinning the mantle lithosphere.

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