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The New River also sometimes referred as the "not-so-new-river" is said to be one of the world's oldest rivers. Beginning in the Blue Mountains near Boone, North Carolina, the water found in the river begins its approximately 2,000-mile trip. The trip itinerary includes flowing northwest into Virginia, into the heart of the Appalachians. From there the Little River joins the New River as it enters West Virginia. After it enters W.V., the Greenbrier River joins it and then it flows thru the amazing New River Gorge. Soon after flowing thru the gorge the River loses it's identity and it become the Gauley, where it's begins a cycle of flowing into the Ohio River, into the Mississippi from the Ohio and into the Gulf of Mexico from there. It is said this trip takes approximately 110 days to finish. This is an example of the age-old process of evaporation, transportation, precipitation, and run-off. Scientists have studied this river for decades, in order to find The New River's age. Scientists have came to five conclusions: 320, 225, 65, 10, and 3 million years old.
How could the conclusions vary so much? Well one fact the scientists do know is that the New River follows the path of an ancient river known as the Teays River. The Teays followed a very different path then the current New River's path. Research has found the Teays didn't attach to the Ohio like the New but past the Ohio and flowed into northern Ohio and westward into the Midwestern region of the US. They believe that Glaciers once covered the region. One of these glaciers migrated into the Teays path, and blocked its flow. The river to help itself began to change its course and eventually joined the Ohio. Knowing this, scientists turned to the Gorge that the river carved in WV. The New River Gorge consists of seven formations: Kanawha, New River, Pocahontas, Bluefield, Princeton, Hinton and Bluefield. They have found these formations were formed in the Paleozoic Era in the younger Pennsylvanian and older Mississippian Periods. Rocks from these eras are known to be approximately 320 million years old. This means that the youngest rocks in the Gorge were deposited at or near sea level about 320 million years ago. Because the river cuts through these rocks, the river must be younger than 320 million years. 320 million years would be the maximum age of the New River.
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But what if the river was formed as the Appalachians formed around it? The Appalachian Mountains were formed by uplifting of the land about 225 million years ago. If the New River started to erode its channel as the mountains were formed, then its "age" could be 225 million years.
Some scientists believe that the Mountain range was formed by many different periods of "uplifting". If the Appalachians were uplifted several times after the initial mountain building 225 million years ago, then the New River actually started to erode the mountains after the last major uplift. This would make it about 65 million years old.
Many geologists believe that the age can be determined by calculating the rate of erosion. They have studied several rivers in the US and have produced a figure of approximately one foot of rock erodes every 6,000 years. Thus, to erode through the 1,600 feet of the Gorge would take about 10 million years, which could also be considered an "age" of the New River.
The last calculation uses the Grand Canyon as an example. The Grand Canyon is well studied, with an "age" between 5 and 10 million years. The New River Gorge is about one-third as deep, and assuming erosion rates are similar, this translates to an "age" of between 2 to 3 million years.
We may never know the "exact" age of this beautiful river. Perhaps with the ever-changing sciences, we eventually will know the age. Regradless of the age of this river, the Appalachians age, helps realize the overall age of this regions it's rivers.