Whitmore Presents Controversial Discoveries

Whitmore Presents Controversial Discoveries

Dr. John Whitmore, Cedarville University Associate Professor of Geology, collects a sample of Coconino Sandstone. Whitmore has been studying the Coconino Sandstone for about 10 years and is making some controversial discoveries. Photo credit: Scott L. Huck/Cedarville University

by Public Relations

November 12, 2009

Dr. John Whitmore, associate professor of geology at Cedarville University, recently presented a paper on his Grand Canyon research during the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America (GSA) in Portland, Oregon, October 18-21.

This annual meeting attracts thousands of geologists who converge to share their scientific work with one another. Whitmore has been studying the Coconino Sandstone for about 10 years and is making some controversial discoveries.

The Coconino Sandstone is a rock layer near the top of the Grand Canyon. Most geologists believe that it was formed in a wind-blown desert environment. They believe that the formation’s large sloping cross beds are the remains of ancient desert sand dunes.

For his research, Whitmore collected samples of this sandstone for microscopic examination of the sand grains. His findings show that the sandstone contains dolomite ooliths, small ball-like structures that are only formed in marine settings. Other features such as grains of very soft mica are also evident under the microscope.

“We would not expect to see these minerals if this sandstone was formed in a desert,” shares Whitmore. “The blowing action of sand would quickly destroy these minerals; however they might survive if carried and deposited by water.”

His findings are controversial because the Coconino Sandstone has been interpreted as being formed in a desert, since the first major publications on this sandstone 75 years ago.

Whitmore has been at Cedarville since 1991 and in 2009 began the University’s first major in geology. Six of Whitmore’s geology students, some of whom are involved with his research, also participated in the 2009 GSA annual conference.