by John Baumgardner, Ph.D. | Sep 18, 2013
John Baumgardner, Ph.D
Los Alamos National Laboratory, Retired
Presented at the International Noah and Judi Mountain Symposium
Şirnak University, Şirnak, Turkey
September 27-29, 2013
One of the main reasons that people trained in the sciences today ignore the account in the Torah of a recent global Flood cataclysm is that they are persuaded that the standard geological timescale is in large measure correct. This paper reviews research that shows that the key assumption underpinning that timescale, namely, the time invariance of nuclear decay processes is false. That conclusion is being affirmed by increasing numbers of publications reporting soft tissue preservation in animal fossils from deep in the geological record. With the barrier of the timescale removed, spectacular physical evidence for a global catastrophic Flood of the sort described in the Torah and Quran becomes obvious. The complete destruction of all land-dwelling, air-breathing life on earth, except that preserved on the ark of Noah, as described in these accounts, immediately suggests that the fossils preserved in the sediment record must represent plants and animals destroyed in the Flood. The logical place in the rock record for the onset of this cataclysm therefore must be where five striking global-scale geological discontinuities—a mechanical-erosional discontinuity, a time/age discontinuity, a tectonic discontinuity, a sedimentary discontinuity, and a paleontological discontinuity coincide (Snelling 2009, 707-711). This unique boundary lies at the base of the Ediacaran in the late Neoproterozoic part of the geological record. Where Ediacaran sediments are missing, it coincides with the Precambrian-Cambrian boundary where Cambrian sediments are present. The identification of this boundary with the onset of the Flood implies that a staggering amount of tectonic catastrophism also must have accompanied the large amount of erosion and sedimentation involved. This paper summarizes some of the work done over the past thirty years to apply numerical modeling to investigate various aspects of this year-long event that dramatically refashioned the face of the earth.
The account of Noah’s Flood in the Torah, when interpreted according to the normal sense of the words, speaks of a global scale cataclysm that destroyed all the air-breathing terrestrial life on earth within the span of a single year. Indeed, the Flood is the only event mentioned in the Torah since the creation of the earth itself up to the present capable of producing global-scale geological change. Certainly an event of this magnitude should have left an abundance of physical evidence across the face of the earth. Many well-trained people today claim there is no such evidence. What is behind such a conclusion?
A crucial assumption underlying the conclusion of no evidence is that the standard geological timescale is generally correct. Under this assumption, as one surveys the evidence, it is unambiguously clear that there was no global-scale event that destroyed the earth’s air-breathing life on a massive scale sometime the third millennium BC. The issue is plain. Either the standard time scale is correct and there was no Flood as described in the Torah, or the time scale is incorrect in a profound way and a global Flood cataclysm is a genuine possibility. I and several of my colleagues have come to the conclusion that the latter choice is the one that corresponds to reality.
In this paper I review briefly the results of the Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth (RATE) research effort completed in 2005 that found several independent lines of radioisotope evidence that the earth itself is only thousands, not billions, of years old. The clearest line of evidence is that zircons in granite with U-Pb ages of more than a billion years retain as much as 80% of their radiogenic helium. The carefully measured diffusion rate of helium in zircon limits significant He retention to only a few thousand years. A second line of evidence are an abundance of damage patterns known as radiohalos caused by alpha particle radiation from radioisotopes of polonium whose half-lives vary between 164 microseconds to 138 days. Extremely rapid radioactive decay of uranium in the close proximity seems logically required to account for the high concentrations of polonium required to generate these Po radiohalos in the short time window available.
A third line of evidence is the consistent presence of readily measurable levels of 14C in plants and animals fossilized and buried deep within the geological record. Due to the short 14C half-life, 14C from living things, with the best technology available today, ought to be undetectable beyond 100,000 years (17.5 half-lives). Yet accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) technology routinely reveals significant levels of 14C in organic samples from the Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Tertiary portions of the geological record. If the standard time scale is valid, how can Paleozoic samples contain levels of 14C that imply ages in the range of only thousands of years? All three lines of evidence point strongly to the conclusion that nuclear decay rates have been much higher during episodes in the earth’s past than they are today. The erroneous assumption on which radioisotope methods have relied, namely, that decay rates have been constant in the past, is the reason for the huge discrepancy between the standard geological time scale and the Torah’s time line for the earth’s physical history.
With the radioisotope time scale removed as a mental barrier, then it becomes almost obvious that the fossil-bearing sedimentary rocks must correspond to sediments which were suspended, transported, and deposited during Noah’s Flood. These rocks commonly contain internal evidence for high-energy processes and display large lateral transport scales. Six global-scale erosional unconformities partition this fossil-bearing sediment record vertically into six global mega-sequences. In addition, a vast amount of lateral plate motion, seafloor spreading, and subduction accompanied the formation of the sediment record. Most of the second part of this paper describes work done since the mid-1980’s relating to the concept of catastrophic plate tectonics. Based on the experimentally measured deformation behavior of silicate minerals, this research reveals how under realistic stress conditions mantle rock can weaken by many orders of magnitude, accompanied by runaway mantle avalanching and overturn. This work argues that the Flood of Noah was not only a hydrological cataclysm also a tectonic one that moved continental blocks by thousands of kilometers across the face of the earth and renewed the entire ocean floor. Within this logical framework, the Flood of Noah therefore becomes the centerpiece to a correct understanding of the earth’s true physical history.
Radioisotope dating—why the time scale cannot be absolute
Radioisotope dating methods rely critically on the assumption that nuclear decay rates have remained constant over the entire course of earth history. Without this assumption a true absolute chronology is not possible from these methods. In 1997 a team of seven researchers, with expertise in physics, geophysics, and geology, began a project specifically to explore why radioisotope methods yield an age for the earth of some 4.6 billion years, while the age of the earth according to a straightforward reading of the Torah is less than ten thousand years. This eight-year research effort known as RATE, for Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth, yielded several independent lines of radioisotope evidence which argue forcefully that the assumption of time-invariant nuclear decay rates since the earth has been in existence is false. The final technical report for this project is Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth: Results of a Young-Earth Creationist Research Initiative, Volume II, edited by L. Vardiman, A. Snelling, and E. Chaffin and published in 2005. This report is available online, with each of the ten chapters available as a separate PDF file, at http://www.icr.org/rate2/. Figure 1 is a photo of the RATE team.
Figure 1. The RATE team included seven research scientists. Middle row, L-R: Andrew Snelling, Ph.D., geology; Steven Austin, Ph.D., geology; Donald DeYoung, Ph.D., physics. Front row, L-R: John Baumgardner, Ph.D., geophysics, Larry Vardiman, Ph.D., geophysics; Russell Humphreys, Ph.D., physics; Eugene Chaffin, Ph.D., physics. Back row, L-R: John Morris, Ph.D., President of the Institute for Creation Research; Kenneth Cumming, Ph.D., Dean, Institute for Creation Research Graduate School; William Hoesch, M.S., laboratory technician; Steven Boyd, Ph.D., professor of Biblical Hebrew.
High levels of He retention in zircons
The clearest and simplest line of evidence undergirding this conclusion involves the high levels of helium retention in zircon crystals from Proterozoic crustal basement rock of mid-continent North America. Zircon, ZrSiO4, is a common auxiliary mineral in granitic rocks and typically contains from 10 ppm to 1 weight percent uranium. Because of its hardness, its high melting temperature, and the fact that essentially no Pb is included in its structure when it crystallizes, zircon has been used widely for dating crustal igneous and metamorphic rocks. The samples used in this study was from core recovered from a 4.3 km deep research well designated as GT-2 near Fenton Hill, New Mexico, drilled by researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory in the 1970’s to explore the feasibility of hot dry rock geothermal energy extraction. The radioisotope age determined for this core, based on the U, Th, and Pb levels measured in its zircons was 1.50±0.02 Ga (Zartman 1979). Samples of this core were also sent to Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the late 1970’s for additional analysis. Researchers there found extraordinary levels of radiogenic helium in the zircons. For example, in a sample from a depth of 960 m, 58% of the He arising via alpha decay of U and Th decay over the rock’s history was still present (Gentry et al., 1982). RATE analysis of rock from this same core found 80% retention from a sample at 750 m depth and 42% retention from a sample at 1490 m depth (Vardiman et al. 2005, 29). Table 1 below provides the helium retention measurements data for five samples (numbered 1-5) reported by Gentry et al. (1982), plus the two (2002 and 2003) analyzed by the RATE team. Temperatures logged during the drilling process for the sample depths ranged from 96°C at 750 m to 313°C at 4310 m depth. The varying helium retention ratios are consistent with the fact that gaseous diffusion rates increase with temperature.
Table 1. Helium retention in zircons from core from drill hole GT-2, Fenton Hill, New Mexico. Q/Q0 is the ratio of the measured helium concentration in the zircons to the amount generated by U and Th decay based on the measured amount of radiogenic Pb present. Samples 1-5 are from Gentry et al. (1982). Samples 2002 and 2003 are from the RATE study reported in Vardiman et al. (2005).
Even before the RATE study, it was clear that the retention levels reported by Gentry et al. (1982) were nearly impossible to reconcile with the U-Pb age of the samples. Published diffusion rates for helium in other solids suggested that the radiogenic helium in the zircons ought to be undetectable. Because the helium diffusivity in zircon had never been measured, the RATE team considered it of high priority to obtain that experimental information. The RATE team therefore contracted with what they deemed the best laboratory in the world to measure zircon He diffusivity. The laboratory was provided with 1200 zircons, 50-75 µm in length, separated from core from borehole GT-2 at a depth of 1490 m, some of which are shown in Figure 2. The laboratory procedure involved measuring the amount of helium that escaped from the zircons as they were maintained at carefully controlled temperatures under vacuum conditions for one-hour intervals. Escaped helium was measured for each of 28 separate temperature values as the temperature was stepped multiple times over the range 200-500°C. A total of 1356 x 10-9 cm3 helium at STP was collected from 216 mg of zircon. These values are the basis for the entries in Table 1 of 6.3×10-9 cm3/mg helium and 42% helium retention shown for sample 2003.
Figure 2. Photo of zircons used in the He diffusivity analysis. These were separated from core extracted from borehole GT-2 at Fenton Hill, New Mexico, from a depth of 1490 m.
Figure 3 displays the zircon He diffusivity values provided by these laboratory measurements. It also highlights the fact that the helium retention values shown in Table 1 are indeed dramatically higher than one should expect if indeed the actual rock crystallization age is 1.5 Ga. These data suggest a much briefer history for this crustal rock, on the order of only 6000 years. The zircons provide two almost entirely independent clocks for determining rock age, one based on the rate of nuclear decay of U and Th to Pb and He in the zircons, and the second based on the rate of diffusion of He through zircon into the much more diffusive biotite that hosts the zircons in the polycrystalline granitic rock. There is a discrepancy of a factor of approximately 250,000 in the elapsed time the two clocks provide. The obvious question is what is the source of this huge discrepancy?
Figure 3. Helium diffusivity in zircon from direct experimental measurement compared with diffusivities implied by helium retention values from Table 1 for two different values of elapsed time since zircon formation. Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals. Note that there is approximately a factor of 105 between the diffusivities implied by the two elapsed times.
Much more detail on the experimental procedures, assumptions involved in the translation of the measurements into diffusivity values, and discussion of many possible alternative explanations of the results is included Chapter 2 of Vardiman et al. (2005) [also available as (Humphreys 2005)].
Polonium radiohalos—from where does the Po arise?
A second major study undertaken by the RATE team focused on the phenomenon of polonium radiohalos. Radiohalos are microscopic spherical shells of damage in minerals such as biotite produced by alpha particles emitted by radioactive elements which are localized at the center of the spherical pattern. These features were first reported in the 1880’s, but their cause remained a mystery until after the discovery of radioactivity in the 1890’s. In the following decade Joly (1907) and Mügge (1907) independently suggested that the patterns of darkening observed around small inclusions in minerals such as biotite was due to alpha particles emitted by radioactive species within central mineral inclusions. Subsequently, it has been confirmed that commonly it is a tiny crystal of zircon which hosts U or a crystal of monazite that hosts Th at the center of a radiohalo.
For the case of 238U, there are eight alpha-emitting species, 238U, 234U, 230Th, 226Ra, 222Rn, 218Po, 214Po, and 210Po, in the decay chain which culminates with 206Pb, which is stable. Each alpha-emitting species has a distinctive alpha particle energy. Because the radius of the shell of damage is related to the alpha energy, a mature 238U radiohalo ideally has eight distinct shells. However, because the alpha energies of some of the species are so similar, often it is difficult under the microscope to distinguish some of the shells from others that have similar energies. In biotite these shells vary in radius from about 13 to 35 µm. About 500 million to a billion 238U decays are required to generate a mature halo. Zircons 1 µm in diameter typically have sufficient U to produce mature halos. A photograph of a 238U halo is displayed in Figure 4. For the case of radiohalos produced by 232Th, there are seven rings corresponding to the seven alpha-emitting species in the 232Th decay chain which culminates with stable 208Pb.
Figure 4. 238U radiohalo in biotite. Alpha particles consisting of two protons and two neutrons from the eight alpha emitting radioisotopes in the 238U decay chain which are localized within a central zircon crystal generate eight spherical zones of damage in the surrounding lattice of a larger host biotite crystal. Each radioisotope has its own characteristic alpha particle energy. Penetration distance in the biotite depends on alpha particle energy. The radius of the 238U ring is about 13 mm, while that of the 214Po ring is about 35 mm. (Photograph courtesy of Mark Armitage)
Biotite, a common mica mineral in crustal crystalline rocks, has been the mineral of choice in the study of radiohalos. This is because biotite is the majority mineral in which U and Th radiohalos occur. It is also because of the ease of thin section preparation and the clarity of the halos in these thin sections. Biotite is a sheet silicate, with the sheets weakly bound together by potassium atoms. The sheets cleave easily, exposing radiohalos in cross-section when halos are present. Using clear Scotch™ tape, biotite flakes can readily be cleaved and dozens of individual biotite sheets transferred to a single microscope slide for inspection. Of particular interest are sheets that intersect mid-planes of a spherical radiohalo. When viewed under a microscope, such sheets display the halo in cross-section with concentric circular rings, as Figure 4 illustrates.
Some unusual radiohalo types have been discovered besides those formed by 238U and 232Th. The most notable ones are those formed by polonium. There are three Po isotopes in the 238U decay chain, 218Po with a half-life of 3.1 minutes, 214Po with a half-life of 164 ms, and 210Po with a half-life of 138 days. Po radiohalos with rings produced exclusively by one or more of these Po alpha-emitting isotopes have been recognized for more than 90 years. Joly (1917, 1924) was probably the first to identify 210Po radiohalos and was unable to account for their origin. Schilling (1926) found Po halos along cracks in fluorite and proposed that they originated from preferential deposition of Po from U-bearing solutions. Henderson (1939) and Henderson and Sparks (1939) advanced a similar hypothesis to explain Po radiohalos along conduits in biotite. The reason for invoking secondary processes to explain the origin of Po radiohalos is simple—the half-lives of the Po isotopes are far too short to be explained by their original presence in the granitic magma that cooled and crystallized to yield the rocks in which Po halos are presently found. For example, the half-life of 218Po is only 3.1 minutes. Moreover, there are no crystalline inclusions at the centers of the Po radiohalos similar to the zircons that are typically at the centers of 238U radiohalos. Instead there are voids. Figure 5 displays a 218Po halo.
Figure 5. 218Po radiohalo in biotite. This halo is overexposed in terms of the amount of alpha radiation that has formed it. This overexposure has caused its rings to be reversed, that is, to be light in color instead of being dark. Note the lack of a crystal at the center.
Yet accounting for these radiohalos by secondary processes is also fraught with difficulty. First, if the Po is derived from 238U, then there is the need to separate the Po isotopes and/or their beta-decay precursors from the parent 238U, since evidence in these halos for prior presence of alpha-emitting precursors is missing. Second, the number of Po atoms needed to produce a mature 218Po, for example, at the center of the halo is vast. Gentry (1974) estimated that as many as 5×109 atoms, or greater that 50% of the volume of the radiocenter, are required. It has been difficult to imagine what sort of physical process might yield such high localized concentrations of Po atoms within a very short time available, especially if these atoms had to migrate or diffuse from their source into the biotite crystals where the radiohalos are now found. A third problem is that if rock temperature exceeds 150°C the damage caused by the alpha particles is annealed and the radiohalo disappears. Hence, whatever the secondary process might have been for transporting the Po from its source to the radiocenter, temperatures must have been modest.
The restrictions on Po radiohalo formation are so extreme that it seems that highly extraordinary circumstances were in play for radiohalos derived from Po to exist at all. In its beginning attempts to understand how Po halos might have formed, the RATE team reasoned that almost certainly that, because of the short isotope half-lives, the Po could not be associated with the primary crystallization of the rocks in which Po halos are found. This implies, as the early investigators surmised, that the Po had to be transported to the Po radiocenters by some secondary process. Moreover, the RATE team concluded that one almost indispensable requirement was an adequate nearby source of Po atoms. 238U in close proximity seemed to be the most likely Po source. Further, the RATE team reasoned that the lack of alpha-emitting precursors to Po in the radiocenters and the constraint of low temperatures in the preservation of the halos pointed to aqueous fluid as the likely transport agent.
Because the RATE team realized keenly that further investigation of the phenomenon of Po radiohalos could possibly shed important light of the history of nuclear decay in the earth, a campaign was launched to sample granitic bodies at many localities around the world and to search for the presence of radiohalos, especially Po halos. Fairly early in this campaign a major discovery was made. It was found that Po halos, especially 210Po halos, were spectacularly abundant in Paleozoic and Mesozoic granitic plutons. They seemed to be most abundant near the pluton axis, where the final vestiges of hydrothermal fluids would have been retained as the plutons cooled and crystallized.
Amazingly, in the majority of the 32 different Paleozoic/Mesozoic granite bodies studied, 210Po radiohalos outnumbered all other radiohalo types, including those of 238U. Sums over all 32 granite bodies yielded 14,384 210Po halos, 1,331 214Po halos, 390 218Po halos, 10,917 238U halos, and 264 232Th halos. Radiohalos of all types were significantly less abundant in the 19 different granite bodies studied of Precambrian age. Sums over these 19 granite bodies yielded 1,736 210Po halos, 23 214Po halos, two 218Po halos, 508 238U halos, and three 232Th halos. In the seven granites of Tertiary age investigated, radiohalos were found in only one of them, in which nine 210Po halos and two 238U halos were identified. The obvious reason for the near absence of radiohalos of Tertiary age is that not enough nuclear decay has elapsed since the beginning of that point in the rock record to generate mature radiohalos. A plausible reason for fewer radiohalos in Precambrian rocks is that heating from metamorphic activity and burial likely annealed many of the halos which earlier may have been present.
The discovery and documentation of such an astonishing number Po radiohalos in Phanerozoic rocks, hundreds to thousands in some individual samples, makes the enigma of their origin all the more acute. The finding that the Po halos were generally most abundant in the cores of granitic plutons where convective cooling of the plutonic bodies by aqueous fluids was the most prolonged strongly suggested that such hydrothermal fluids played a key role in their formation. Snelling (2000) pointed out that there are reports of 210Po as a detectable species in present-day volcanic gases, in hydrothermal fluids associated with subaerial volcanoes and fumaroles as well as in hydrothermal fluids from mid-ocean ridge vents and in associated chimney deposits [LeCloarec et al. 1994; Hussain et al. 1995; Rubin 1997]. 210Po has also been well documented in groundwater [Harada et al. 1989; LaRock et al. 1996]. The distances involved in this fluid transport of the Po in some cases are several kilometers.
Despite the fact that Po isotopes are usually present in hydrothermal fluids in crustal magmatic contexts today, their concentrations are so minute that it is difficult to conceive how such water-borne Po could possibly form a radiohalo in biotite in a granitic rock. The constraint that halo formation must occur at temperatures below 150°C implies that the plutonic bodies had already crystalized and were in the final stages of cooling when the Po halos that exist today actually formed. The time window for cooling from 150°C until the temperature drops below what is needed to sustain convective flow is brief. How could there be sufficient Po generated, presumably from 238U in the close proximity, to produce these halos? The RATE team concluded, similar to their conclusion relative to the cause for the high He retention in zircons in granite, that dramatically increased rates of 238U decay during the interval of halo formation is close to a logical necessity.
An issue still unsolved is, even if high concentrations of Po were present in the fluids in the final-stage cooling of a granitic pluton, what might trigger localized precipitation of Po from solution to emplace a billion or so Po atoms in a spherical volume a fraction of a mm in diameter within the stacked leaves of a biotite crystal. The RATE team speculated that some sort of positive feedback mechanism involving Po and Pb and likely some other chemical species might have played a role. Precipitation of a few atoms of Po out of solution at the site of a crystalline defect in the biotite could have initiated the process. If the chemical presence of Pb resulted in increased scavenging of Po from solution, then the decay of Po to Pb could conceivably accelerate the Po accumulation at the local site to a point of runaway. Further research is clearly appropriate.
14C still present in Paleozoic and Mesozoic fossils
A remarkable discovery that accompanied the introduction in the early 1980’s of accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) for measuring radiocarbon levels was the finding that organic samples from every part of the Phanerozoic portion of the geological record displayed significant and reproducible levels of 14C. This finding was entirely unexpected because the half-life of 14C, 5730 years, is so brief relative to the span of time conventionally assigned to the Phanerozoic portion of earth history. Indeed, 14C decays to levels undetectable by any technology available today after only 100,000 years (17.5 half-lives). After one million years (175 half-lives) the amount of 14C remaining is only 3×10-53 of the starting concentration. So investigators were puzzled to find 14C/C ratios of 0.1-0.5% of the modern value (percent modern carbon, or pMC) in samples they assumed would be entirely 14C-free because of their location in the geological record. At first the anomalous 14C was assumed to be a result of faulty laboratory procedures that somehow allowed the samples to be contaminated with a modest amount of modern carbon. Because this phenomenon was being observed at most of not all of the AMS 14C laboratories around the world, it generated a significant number of professional papers in the peer-reviewed radiocarbon literature. A few minor sources of contamination were identified in the laboratory procedures. However, after these were corrected, the bulk of the 14C signal still remained.
Table 1 on pp. 596-597 in Vardiman et al. (2005) [also available as (Baumgardner 2005a)] lists over 40 examples from these professional papers of fossil materials, such as wood, coal, bone, and shell, from fossilized organisms that, based on their location in the geological record, ought to be entirely 14C-free. Each of these samples, however, displayed a 14C value in the range of 0.1-0.65 pMC. A specific example was that of anthracite coal described by Vogel et al. (1987). In this study, designed to look for sources of contamination in their AMS procedures, the researchers varied the sample size over a range of 2000, from 10µg to 20mg. Samples 500µg and larger yielded a 14C level of 0.44±0.13 pMC, independent of sample size. The smaller sample sizes indicated a constant level of contamination, independent of sample size, which the researchers were able to identify and eliminate. After making corrections to their laboratory procedures, they concluded that the remaining 14C they were measuring was intrinsic to the coal itself. They chose to refer to it as “contamination of the sample in situ,” “not [to be] discussed further.” This example is representative of the others listed in that table.
The range of 0.1-0.5 pMC so routinely measured in organic Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Tertiary samples corresponds to 14C ages between 57,000 and 44,000 years. In recent times it has become standard policy for AMS labs not to assign an ‘age’ to samples that otherwise would date older than 50,000 years. For example, the AMS laboratory at the University of Arizona states on their home page, “The maximum radiocarbon age which can be measured at the facility is about 48,000 B.P.” This policy is employed to hide this embarrassing state of affairs as much as possible. Yet the AMS hardware is technically able to resolve 14C/C ratios as low as 0.001 pMC, corresponding to 95,000 years—more than two orders of magnitude smaller than the 0.24 pMC that corresponds to 50,000 years. The excuse the AMS laboratories give for not reporting ages for samples greater than 50,000 years is that the 14C levels in older samples fall below the laboratory’s ‘standard background’ value. Yet the peer-reviewed radiocarbon literature of the 1980’s and 1990’s reveals that standards such as natural gas were then commonly used by major AMS laboratories as their ‘standard background, with 14C/C ratios below 0.1 pMC (e.g., Beukens 1990). The present practice of choosing a high ‘standard background’ value has nothing to do with the technical capabilities of the AMS hardware or with the current state-of-the-art in sample processing methods. The high value is employed solely to allow a laboratory not to be asked to explain the high pMC value in a sample that ought to be entirely 14C-free by virtue of its location in the geological record.
Because significant 14C levels in fossils from Paleozoic and Mesozoic strata conflict so profoundly with the standard time scale, the RATE team decided to see if it could reproduce these findings. The team obtained ten coal samples from the U.S. Department of Energy Coal Sample Bank that is maintained at Pennsylvania State University for the purpose of coal research. Samples in this repository are from the economically most important coalfields of the United States. Theses samples were collected originally in 180 kg quantities from recently exposed areas in active coal mines and quickly sealed under argon in 115 liter steel drums. As soon as feasible after collection, these large samples were processed to obtain representative 300 g samples with a 0.85 mm particle size (20 mesh). The smaller 300 g samples were sealed under argon in multi-laminate foil bags and have since been kept in refrigerated storage at 3°C. The RATE team selected a set of ten of the 33 coals available with the objectives of good coverage geographically and with respect to depth in the geological record. The set contained three Eocene, three Cretaceous, and four Pennsylvanian coals.
The RATE team sent samples from these ten coals to what it deemed to be the best AMS 14C laboratory in the world and requested the highest precision analysis that the laboratory offered. High precision was achieved by generating four separate AMS targets for each sample, analyzing 16 separate spots on each of the targets, and performing a variance test on the 16 spots, eliminating any of the 16 that fail the variance test. The laboratory’s standard background standard was 0.077±0.005 pMC, one of the lowest in the world at that time. This background was subtracted from the actual measured values. The results for the ten samples are summarized in Figure 6. The mean value across the ten samples was 0.247 pMC. There was no significant difference statistically in 14C levels among the samples grouped according to position in the geological record. The results from these RATE samples agree closely with what was already well established in the radiocarbon literature, namely, that organic remains from the Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Tertiary routinely yield 14C/C ratios in the range 0.1-0.5 pMC. Again, these results are in stark conflict with what should be expected if the standard geological time scale is correct. The four RATE samples from the Pennsylvanian Period, with conventional ages of about 300 million years, for example, yielded 14C ages of 44,500 years, 54,900 years, 51,800 years, and 48,300 years.
Figure 6. Histogram of 14C results for the ten RATE coal samples. Translating percent modern carbon to 14C age gives a range for these samples between 44,500 years and 57,100 years and an average of 49,600 years. (From Vardiman et al. 2005, 606)
How does the RATE team account for this huge discrepancy? What is the source of the 14C? If one is inclined to view the Torah as a trustworthy account of history, one that includes a world-destroying Flood in the third millennium B.C., and also infers that the fossil-bearing sediment layers are a physical record of that cataclysm, then the time scale is brief enough for some of the 14C present in the organisms alive before the Flood to still exist in their fossilized remains today. The RATE team also noted that the 14C/C ratio in organisms that lived before the Flood might well have been perhaps a hundred times lower than the present atmospheric 14C/C ratio due the very large amount of plant and animal life alive at the time of the Flood as implied by the vast stores of coal and oil in the fossil-bearing rock record. If the total amount of 14C was roughly the same as today, then the 14C/C ratio would be significantly smaller in the atmosphere and in living organisms before the Flood. Taking this possibility into account could explain how organisms alive at the time of the Flood, perhaps only 5,000 years ago, actually yield 14C ages today in the range of 50,000 years.
However, the large variance in the 14C/C ratios in the remains of the fossilized plants and animals indicates the full explanation is more complex. The RATE team also noted that accelerated nuclear decay of U and Th during the Flood must have generated high fluxes of neutrons in the continental crust, including its sediment layers. Section 7 in Chapter 8 in Vardiman et al. (2005) provides a survey of measurement data for the thermal neutron flux levels in granitic environments today. It also provides an estimate of the amount of 14C generation that would occur in carbon-bearing materials in crustal environments, if accelerated nuclear decay occurred during the Flood, as thermal neutrons interacted both with 14N and 13C to form 14C. The levels of 14C generated in this manner can readily account for the variance in 14C levels measured in fossil material in Flood deposited sediments. The variance arises mostly from the large variations from place to place in crustal environments in the concentrations of U and Th.
Although the high levels of 14C in fossilized organisms from Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Tertiary portions of the rock record do not directly demonstrate that accelerated nuclear decay in radioactive species with long half-lives such as 238U, 232Th, 40K, and 87Rb occurred, the high 14C levels are highly consistent with that inference. They are consistent, first, because accelerated decay of the long half-life species collapses the time scale of the portion of the rock record associated with the Flood from roughly 600 million years to a single year a few thousand years ago. This means that 14C in organisms alive at the onset of the Flood should still be detectable today. Second, 14C produced from neutrons generated by accelerated decay in crustal rocks seems to be able to account for the large variance in 14C levels in the organisms buried by the Flood and preserved today as carbon-bearing fossils. Thirdly, 14C produced in this manner also seems to account for the rapid rise in atmospheric 14C levels after the Flood cataclysm, as indicated by increasing 14C levels occurring during the lifetimes of individual Pleistocene organisms (Nadeau et al. 2001; Vardiman et al. 2005, 598-600) as CO2 containing high levels of 14C outgassed from crustal rocks into the atmosphere.
It is noteworthy to point out that the quantum transitions involved with beta decay of 40K, 87Rb, 187Re, and 176Lu are, what are referred to as ‘forbidden’, and result in long half-lives. By contrast, beta decay of 14C to 14N involves an ‘allowed’ nuclear transition and results in a short half-life. There is reason to suspect that, whatever the cause for the accelerated decay of the long half-life species whose decay involved a ‘forbidden’ nuclear quantum transition, the cause did not affect radioactive species whose decay involved an ‘allowed’ transition. These issues are discussed in Chapter 7 of Vardiman, et al. (2005).
A radically revised time scale
To summarize this long section describing the work of the RATE team, this research identified three largely independent lines of radioisotope evidence that each supports the conclusion that nuclear decay rates for the long half-life species commonly used for radioisotope dating have not been constant over the earth’s physical history. The retention of large fractions of the radiogenic helium in Proterozoic crustal zircons points directly to this conclusion. The frequent occurrence of Po radiohalos in Phanerozoic granitic plutons logically seems to require accelerated decay during the Flood to account for the extreme concentrations of Po needed to generate Po radiohalos in Flood age rocks. Finally, the high levels of 14C in fossilized organisms that were living before the Flood seem logically to require an episode of accelerated nuclear decay during the Flood to collapse of the standard Phanerozoic time scale accordingly. The 14C formed in crustal rocks for neutrons resulting from such an episode of rapid nuclear decay also explains the large variance in 14C levels in the fossilized samples as well as the required rapid increase in atmospheric 14C levels after the Flood to yield near modern levels by about 3500 years ago. Finally, the high levels of He retention in zircons that had a U-Pb age of 1.5 Ga in the RATE study also seems to require an episode of accelerated decay prior to the one during the Flood to account for all its decay products within the 6,000 year limit implied by the measured zircon He diffusivity. The RATE team conjectured that the very rapid formation of the earth as described in the Torah was accompanied by approximately 4×109 years’ worth of accelerated nuclear decay during that brief time interval of the earth’s formation. The resulting time scale constrained by the Torah as it relates to the eons, eras, periods, and epochs of the standard geological time scale is summarized in Figure 7.
Figure 7. Geological time scale based on the Torah’s account of Creation, the Flood, and the genealogical data of the patriarchs.
Original tissue preservation in fossils affirms the RATE conclusions
Not only does the RATE research strongly point to the conclusion that the assumption of time-invariant nuclear decay rates causes the standard radioisotope time scale to be seriously in error, other recent findings confirm that the fossil record was formed, not over a span of a half billion years, but quite recently over a brief interval of time. One example is the finding of well-preserved soft tissue in bone from a T. rex recovered from the Hell Creek Formation in Montana, U.S.A. The soft tissue included flexible blood vessels containing red blood cells. This astonishing result was reported in the March 25, 2005, issue of the journal Science, volume 307, pages 1852 and 1952-1955. Figure 8 are photographs from this report. More recently, preserved original tissue has been documented in horn of a Triceratops also recovered from the Hell Creek Formation as reported in Armitage and Anderson (2013). It is unimaginable that such soft tissue could be preserved for the 65 million years as asserted by the standard geological time scale.
Figure 8. Images of flexible blood vessels (left) and red blood cells within them (right) extracted from a hind limb of a T. rex dinosaur found in the Hell Creek Formation in Montana as reported in Mary H. Schweitzer et al., 2005, “Soft-tissue vessels and cellular preservation in Tyrannosaurus rex,” Science 307:1952-1955.
Prominent Physical Aspects of Noah’s Flood
When the barrier of the radioisotope timescale is removed, spectacular physical evidence for a global catastrophic Flood of the sort described in the Torah becomes obvious. The complete destruction of all land-dwelling, air-breathing life on earth, except that preserved on the ark of Noah, as described in these accounts, immediately suggests that the fossils preserved in the sediment record must represent plants and animals destroyed in the Flood. The logical place in the rock record for the onset of this cataclysm therefore must be where five striking global-scale geological discontinuities—a mechanical-erosional discontinuity, a time/age discontinuity, a tectonic discontinuity, a sedimentary discontinuity, and a paleontological discontinuity all coincide (Snelling 2009, 707-711). This unique boundary lies at the base of the Ediacaran in the late Neoproterozoic part of the geological record. Where Ediacaran sediments are missing, it coincides with the Precambrian-Cambrian boundary, where Cambrian sediments are present. Although the paleontological discontinuity is commonly referred to as the ‘Cambrian explosion’ because of the sudden appearance of almost every modern animal phylum in the lower Cambrian strata, it is now clear that the organisms fossilized in the Ediacaran sediments also are part of this explosion, because the Ediacaran sediments lie above the global scale erosional discontinuity.
The Great Unconformity
This striking erosional unconformity, which simultaneously corresponds to time/age, tectonic, sedimentary, and paleontological discontinuities, is indeed of global extent (Ager 1973, 10-11). In much of North America, the sedimentary layer just above this discontinuity is the Tapeats Sandstone and its equivalents. The violence of the erosion at this discontinuity is revealed by huge quartzite boulders in the basal portion of the Tapeats Sandstone in the Grand Canyon. Figure 9 is a photograph of one of these boulders that is 4.5 m in diameter and weighs 200 tons. Figure 10 is a map showing the lateral extent of the Cambrian Tapeats Sandstone and its equivalents across North America. This prominent erosional discontinuity, here beneath the Tapeats Sandstone but worldwide in its distribution, has become known as the Great Unconformity. The fact that it is also represents the abrupt first appearance of so many animal phyla makes it the logical choice for the location in the rock record for the onset of the catastrophic Flood that occurred during the lifetime of Noah as described in the Torah. In fact, this seems to be only reasonable choice that aligns with the Torah’s account of the history of the world.
Figure 9. Large boulder of Shinumo Quartzite 4.5 m in diameter near the base of the lower Cambrian Tapeats Sandstone in the Grand Canyon that illustrates the intensity of the catastrophism that deposited this extensive sandstone layer. (From Austin 1994, 46)
Figure 10. Map showing the distribution of the lower Cambrian Tapeats Sandstone and its equivalents across North America. (From Morris 2012, 149)
The Tapeats Sandstone corresponds to the base of what is known as the Sauk Megasequence, the lowest of six sediment megasequences, originally identified and described by Sloss (1963) in North America, that are separated from one another by global-scale erosional unconformities (Snelling 2009, 528-530, 740-741). Figure 11 is a simplified representation of how these six large packages of sediment are distributed in an east-west direction across the North American continent. What is striking is that separating each megasequence from the next is a craton-wide erosional unconformity. The six erosional unconformities essentially beveled the continental surface flat before the deposition of the next thick sequence of sedimentary layers. As just mentioned, the Tapeats Sandstone and its equivalents lie just above the first of these six erosional unconformities. It is also useful to note here that where Neoproterozoic Ediacaran sediments are present, this first erosional unconformity occurs just beneath these sediments. The basal formation of the next megasequence, known as the Tippecanoe Megasequence, is the widely distributed St. Peter Sandstone. Figure 12 displays the lateral distribution for this distinctive sandstone formation.
Figure 11. Diagram showing the six Phanerozoic megasequences described originally by Sloss (1963) for the North American craton. These six huge packages of sediment are thickest near the craton margins and thinnest near the craton center. They are separated from one another by craton-wide erosional unconformities. The Tapeats sandstone and its equivalents are the basal unit of the Sauk megasequence in North America.
Figure 12. Distribution of the St. Peter Sandstone and its equivalents in North America. This formation is the basal unit of the Tippecanoe Megasequence. (From Morris 2012, 111)
Global-scale numerical modeling of Flood erosion and sedimentation
In the context of the global Flood described in the Torah, what could possibly have been the mechanism that resulted in such a large-scale pattern of erosion and sedimentation? Recently Baumgardner (2013) has developed a numerical model designed to explore this issue. The numerical approach applies the equations of open channel turbulent flow to model sediment transport and deposition within the framework of a scheme that solves the shallow water equations on a rotating sphere. The treatment of erosion is restricted to cavitation. Up to this point the continental geometry has been restricted to a single circular supercontinent that covers 38% of the spherical surface. Numerical experiments so far suggest that large tidal pulses are required to drive the water strongly enough to erode, transport, and deposit the required volumes of sediment.
Figure 13 contains snapshots of the solution from this model at a time of only one day after the onset of a tidal pulse of amplitude 2500 m centered at 30° latitude and 90° longitude relative to the center of the continent. The circular continent initially is slightly domed, with a height of 150 m above sea level at its center and 24 m below sea level about its perimeter. The surrounding ocean has a uniform depth of 4000 m.
Figure 13. Snapshots at time of one day after the onset of a 2500 m high tidal pulse of (a.) suspended sediment load, (b.) cumulative bedrock erosion, (c.) net cumulative sedimentation, and (d.) topographic height relative to sea level in a global erosion/sedimentation model.
The velocities indicated are the velocities near the top of the moving water layer. The vertical water velocity profile decreases to zero in a logarithmic manner at the land surface according to standard turbulence theory. Cavitation erosion of crystalline bedrock is assumed to produce sediment that is 70% fine sand with a mean grain size of 0.063 mm, 20% medium sand with a mean grain size of 0.50 mm, and 10% coarse sand with a mean grain size of 1.0 mm. A modest amount of isostatic compensation is folded into the topography calculation. Bottom friction and turbulent eddy viscosity are included in the momentum equation and cause the water velocities to diminish with time. Nevertheless, moderate erosion and sedimentation continues for several weeks after the tidal pulse. A significant amount of erosion occurs at the continent margin.
The experiments conducted thus far indicate that six such pulses spaced about 30 days apart are adequate to erode, transport, and deposit, on average, the 1,800 m of sediment observed to blanket the continental surface today. The strong, global-scale tsunami-like waves these pulses initially generate do indeed result in erosional unconformities that affect most of the continent surface. Much work, of course, remains to include more realism into the model and to explore the parameter space more fully. Nevertheless, this initial reconnaissance effort has provided at least some idea what is required to account for some of the largest scale aspects of the sediment record. For more details of the model and a more complete description of this specific case, see Baumgardner (2013).
General characteristics of the sediment record consistent with a global-scale Flood
Already discussed is clear physical evidence associated with the Tapeats Sandstone and its equivalents of global-scale catastrophic process at the Flood’s onset. Equally clear indicators of high-energy laterally-extensive processes are also abundant throughout the subsequent geological record. There is space here to highlight only a few examples. Figure 14 provides a summary glimpse into some of the general characteristics of this record. One feature is the thickness of the sequence, originally some 5000 m in this Colorado Plateau region before later erosion removed a significant fraction. What physical process would lower the surface of the normally high-standing continents so that they could receive so much sedimentary deposition? Why is there so little erosional channeling at formation boundaries within the thick layer-cake like succession of layers, as illustrated in Figure 15 (Snelling 2009, 591-592)? These features of the record are sufficient by themselves to falsify the claim that “the present is the key to the past” as far as the sediment record is concerned. Nowhere on earth is there currently such a sequence of layers, mostly of marine affinity, with such vast lateral extent being deposited within continent interiors.
Figure 14. Illustrative north-south cross section of the western Colorado Plateau region of North America. Note the generally smooth contacts at formation boundaries, in contrast with the channelized topography of the continental surface today. Most of the formations shown here are laterally continuous over hundreds of thousands of square km. Some with their equivalents are global in lateral extent.
Figure 15. View of the contact between the Coconino Sandstone (above) and the Hermit Shale (below) in the Grand Canyon along the Bright Angel Trail. Note the lack of erosional channeling along this contact. This is not uncommon for contacts between successive formations across the geological record. (From Austin 1994, 49)
Evidences of catastrophic process internal to the sediment layers
Moreover, many formations throughout the Phanerozoic sedimentary record display persuasive internal evidence for rapid, even catastrophic, deposition. This is true for many of the formations in the Colorado Plateau shown in Figure 14, especially several of the strongly cross-bedded sandstone formations, beginning with the Cambrian Tapeats Sandstone (Snelling 2009, 506, 508, 528-530), but also including the Permian Coconino Sandstone (Snelling 2009, 501-510, the Triassic Shinarump Conglomerate (Snelling 2009, 519-520), and the Jurassic Navajo Sandstone (Morris, 2012, 163). The Permian Coconino Sandstone is easy to recognize in the Grand Canyon. Figure 16 is a photograph taken by the author from the Hance Trail that begins on the south canyon rim. Well-developed cross-bedding is evident in this photo.
Figure 16. Exposure of the Permian Coconino Sandstone near the south rim of the Grand Canyon (foreground). Note the evident cross-bedding. The formation is also easy to identify on the opposite side of the canyon.
Although the Coconino crossbeds are interpreted in the conventional literature as eolian, there are several compelling reasons to reject that interpretation and instead conclude that they must be the product of water action. The first reason is the grain size distribution. The Coconino sand is poorly sorted with a bimodal distribution consisting of two populations of grain sizes, each of which is log-normal distributed. By contrast, wind-borne sand in a desert environment is almost always well-sorted with a unimodal grain size distribution. The second reason concerns the crossbed angle relative to the horizontal. In desert dunes, the bedding angle is close to the angle of repose of dry sand, which is 31°. By contrast the crossbed angle observed in modern marine environments is 20-25°, which is what is observed for the Coconino. A third reason involves mineralogical composition. The Coconino sand includes biotite, a type of mica, at approximately the 1% level. Because biotite grains are so fragile, there are quickly destroyed under desert wind conditions. A fourth reason is the presence of recumbent folding observed within the Coconino crossbeds. This phenomenon is common today in alluvial settings where gravity-induced shear occurs at the base of sand waves as grains are able to rotate in water-supported sand, and the sand wave partially collapses. Such a process does not occur, however, in dry sand. A fifth reason is the abundance of well-preserved animal trackways on many crossbed surfaces in the Coconino. Wet sand is essential for such preservation. It is difficult to conceive how trackways could possibly be a common feature in desert dunes. Finally, the Coconino has inter-tonguing layers of water-deposited dolomite near its boundary with the overlying Toroweap Formation, which itself is clearly marine.
A key line of evidence supporting a catastrophic, world-destroying Flood is the huge lateral extent of so many of the sedimentary formations and the staggering volumes of sediment they represent. This is certainly true of the Coconino Sandstone. Figure 17 is an isopach map of a portion of the Coconino Sandstone and its equivalents, corresponding to an area of than 500,000 km2 and a volume of more than 40,000 km3.
Figure 17. Isopach map of the Coconino Sandstone and its equivalents. The area displayed for the Coconino is more than 500,000 km2 and the volume is more than 40,000 km3. Contour lines are in feet (0.305 m/ft). (From Austin 1994, 36)
The uniformity of a formation as laterally extensive as the Coconino suggests a coherent rapidly moving water column capable, by virtue of its turbulence, of suspending a considerable thickness of sediment and transporting it a considerable distance before deposition finally takes place. Under such conditions it is not surprising that sand waves could result in the deposition zone. Figure 18 shows how crossbeds can form in response to sustained water flow with a sustained supply of sand falling from suspension. Indeed, to deposit the average amount of Phanerozoic sediment observed to be present of the continents today, 1800 m, during the 150 day interval the Torah indicates for the main phase of the Flood unmistakably requires—on average—tens of m of sediment in suspension in a tsunami-like column of water which is thick enough to support such a sediment load, moving with a speed of at least tens of m/s (Baumgardner 2013). The presence of many layers in the sediment record that require such conditions for their formation testify to the reasonableness of such conclusions.
Figure 18. Diagrams illustrating the formation of cross beds on a sandy bed in response to sustained water flow. Top: Diagram showing the formation of tabular cross beds by down-current migration of sand waves beneath sustained water flow. Bottom: Cross-sectional diagram showing how sand waves migrate and form inclined beds on the down-current side of the sand wave where the flow direction is reversed. For clarity, the bottom diagram is drawn with a large vertical exaggeration. (From Austin 1994, 33)
Another related line of evidence for the reality of catastrophic conditions is fossil graveyards (Snelling 2009, 537-548 and 569-575). To preserve a fossil generally requires catastrophically rapid burial. Otherwise, scavengers, insects, and bacteria will quickly degrade the organism such that little is left. Throughout the record well-preserved fossils are abundant. The standard community currently is astonished by the rapidly increasing number of reports of original tissue preservation, including, as mentioned above, still elastic blood vessels containing red blood cell from dinosaur bone. Even apart from the issue of original tissue preservation, there is clear evidence in many cases for catastrophic conditions associated with the burial of the organisms. One example is the dinosaur graveyard preserved at Dinosaur National Monument near the Colorado-Utah border just east of Vernal, Utah. At this site there are several dozens of dinosaurs which were buried together under violently catastrophic conditions. Most of the dinosaurs were torn apart, with burial was so rapid that, within individual portions of the dinosaur carcasses, the bones remained articulated, as displayed in Figure 19. The fossils at Dinosaur National Monument are in the Morrison Formation, which has yielded more dinosaur fossils than any other formation in North America (Snelling 2009, 571).
Figure 19. Dinosaur bones in the Jurassic Morrison Formation at Dinosaur National Monument on the border between Colorado and Utah. Bones from a large number of dinosaurs are here found jumbled together, yet in several cases, vertebrae are still articulated in sections of spinal column, suggestive of violent conditions of death and burial. (Photo from U. S. Park Service)
The vast lateral extent of the Morrison Formation of more than 1.5 million km2 is shown in Figure 20. Noteworthy is the astonishing amount of volcanic ash this formation contains throughout its range, probably from catastrophic, subduction-related volcanic activity to the southwest in what is now California.
Figure 20. Lateral distribution of the Jurassic Morrison Formation, covering an area of more than 1.5 million km2. (From Morris 2012, 112)
Coal deposits point to catastrophic process
The sediment record also displays widespread evidence for transport and burial of staggering volumes of plant material (Snelling 2009, 549-568). The Powder River Basin in northeastern Wyoming and southeastern Montana is a spectacular example. Containing the largest coal deposit in North America, it supplies the United States with 40% of its coal. With its low sulfur content, much of it is exported abroad. The coal bed, shown in Figure 21, locally reaches 30 m in thickness and covers an area of more than 50,000 km2. Structural indicators within the coal itself reveal that the majority of the plant material was originally conifer trees that grew elsewhere and were transported to their present location. The volume of plant material required to form such thick, laterally extensive layers of coal testifies unmistakably to catastrophic circumstances.
Figure 21. Strip mining of the Paleocene Powder River Basin coal in northeastern Wyoming. Seam is up to 27 m in thickness at this location. This is the largest coal deposit in the United States and supplies 40% of the nation’s coal. Evidence is compelling that the plant material from which the coal formed was transported from elsewhere and buried here.
Massive removal of sediment from continent interiors during final stages of the Flood
Not only were catastrophic processes involved in the creation of the thick accumulation of sediment layers on the continents, but observations reveal that a significant fraction of this deposited sediment was subsequently stripped away in a rapid manner near the end of the cataclysm. This shown in a relatively clear way in the Colorado Plateau region of North America as indicted in Figure 22. Massive sheet erosion seems to be required to remove huge volume of sediment once present but now missing from much of the Colorado Plateau region (Snelling 2009, 595-596). This suggests that a rapid increase in the volume of the oceans and a consequent rapid lowering of the global sea level may be responsible a rapid runoff of water from the continent interiors that removed a notable fraction of the upper layers of sediment that had not yet been cemented and lithified. Figure 23 shows the global distribution of sediment today. It is clear from this map that the thickest accumulations of sediment are along the continent margins, mostly on the continental shelves.
Figure 22. Diagram illustrating the huge volumes of sediment stripped away from continent interiors in the latter stages of the Flood cataclysm.
Figure 23. Global map of sediment thickness. Thickness scale is in km. Sediment thickness averaged over the continents today is 1800 m. Thickest accumulations are on the continental shelves, presumably the result of runoff during the final stages of the Flood. (From Laske and Masters 1997)
Rapid uplift of today’s high mountain ranges and an Ice Age after the Flood
A major enigma in continental geology today is why a major portion of the uplift of the earth’s major mountain belts occurred so recently, during the Pliocene and Pleistocene (Ollier and Pain 2000), while, presumably, most of the crustal thickening required to support such elevated topographical features had taken place millions or even tens of millions of years earlier. The Flood, involving catastrophic tectonic processes to be described later in this paper as well as a dramatically compressed timescale, readily solves this enigma (Baumgardner 2005b). The Flood also nicely accounts for an Ice Age afterward. The warming of the oceans during the Flood caused higher evaporation rates over the oceans and significantly increased precipitation rates, especially at high latitudes, following the Flood. This resulted in more snowfall at high latitudes and at high mountain elevations during the winters than could melt in the summers, resulting in rapidly growing ice sheets and mountain glaciers (Austin et al. 1994; Snelling 2009, 769-786).
New insights concerning the Flood from the ocean bottom
Thus far, the focus has been on the evidence for the rapid, catastrophic formation of the fossil-bearing sediment record on the continents during the Flood. What occurred in the ocean basins? A major development following World War II, as the sonar technology developed to find and track submarines was applied to mapping the topography of the seafloor, was the discovery of the mid-ocean ridge system that winds around the sea bottom like the seam of a baseball. Figure 24 shows the segment known as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge of this global feature that bisects the North and South Atlantic Ocean basins. The subsequent quest to understand this remarkable global feature led to the development and acceptance of the concepts of plate tectonics in the 1960’s (Snelling 2009, 365-415).
Figure 24. Topographical map of the Atlantic Ocean Floor. (From National Geographic Society, 1968) All the basaltic ocean crust on the earth today is of Mesozoic age or younger.
As rocks and sediment cores from the ocean floor were recovered and analyzed, it was discovered that today’s ocean floor is all younger than early Mesozoic. All ocean floor from earlier in the earth’s past has been subducted into the earth’s interior, except for tiny fragments that have been thrust onto the continents and preserved as ophiolites. Figure 25 shows the point in the continental record below which no ocean floor exists at the earth’s surface. In other words, all the igneous ocean crust on earth today cooled from a molten state at a mid-ocean ridge as shown in Figure 26 since that point in the continental record.
Figure 25. Diagram marking the point in the continental stratigraphic record where the history of the current ocean floor begins.
Figure 26. Diagram illustrating the structure of the mid-ocean ridge system, formed as adjacent plates of oceanic lithosphere diverge. Partial melting of upper mantle rock occurs beneath the ridge axis to generate molten basalt that rises, cools, and crystallizes to form new ocean crust between the spreading plates.
Catastrophic plate tectonics—a logical necessity
What does this imply about mechanics of the Flood cataclysm? It implies that a vast amount of subduction and seafloor spreading must have unfolded during the Flood and that subduction and seafloor spreading must have been a major aspect of the overall Flood cataclysm (Baumgardner 1986; Austin et al. 1994; Snelling 2009, 691). Because none of the pre-Flood or Paleozoic ocean floor is to be found at the earth’s surface today, all of this ocean lithosphere must have been cycled into the earth’s interior during the year of the Flood. The logic is just that tight. The author reached this conclusion in the spring of 1978 and recognized the crucial importance of including the tectonics aspects of the Flood in defending the Torah’s account of earth history. The basic idea is that, instead of subduction and seafloor spreading speeds of only cm/yr as is currently observed for the earth, during the Flood speeds must have been on the order of m/s, some 108 to 109 times higher. Figure 27 shows a cross section of the earth with a slab of ocean lithosphere subducting beneath South America. For sake of illustration of the rates of subduction that occurred during the Flood, the downgoing slab is shown moving at m/s speed. Such speeds turn out to be possible because silicate minerals, based on laboratory experiments, can weaken by factors of 109 under the stress and temperature conditions that can arise within the mantle. With this sort of weakening, cold gravitationally unstable ocean lithosphere can sink to the bottom of the mantle in the span of a few weeks’ time. This concept, involving runaway sinking of the ocean lithosphere, has come to be known as catastrophic plate tectonics (Austin et al. 1994; Snelling 2009, 683-706). Catastrophic plate tectonics is similar to conventional plate tectonics except that the spectacular weakening throughout the mantle associated with the runaway physics yields dramatically higher plate speeds as well as dramatically more rapid motions within the mantle itself.
Figure 27. Cross section of the earth showing the core, mantle, asthenosphere, and lithosphere. In catastrophic plate tectonics, the cold dense ocean lithosphere is recycled into the mantle at m/s speeds because of an instability that arises due to stress weakening inherent in silicate rheology.
My own journey
Driven by the awareness that something like catastrophic plate tectonics almost certainly must have accompanied the Flood, I began a Ph.D. program in earth science at UCLA to acquire the training and credentials to investigate this topic at a professional level. As part of my thesis research, I collaborated with a mathematician at Los Alamos National Laboratory to develop a 3D spherical finite element code for modeling the flow inside the mantles of terrestrial planets like the earth (Baumgardner 1985). This code became known as TERRA. The code is still used by several solid earth geophysics research groups around the world.
After completing my Ph.D. in geophysics from UCLA in 1983, I accepted a staff scientist position in a computational fluid dynamics group at Los Alamos where I worked for the next 20 years. During that time I was able to explore in considerable depth the physics associated with catastrophic plate tectonics. I was keenly aware of the laboratory experiments that show that, under the stress and temperature conditions that can exist in the mantle of a planet with the mass and gravity field of the earth, mantle minerals can weaken by a billion-fold or more. However, from a numerical standpoint it was a daunting challenge to find a numerical method that could handle the extreme gradients which arise under these runaway conditions (Baumgardner 1994a). It was not until the late 1990’s, that a graduate student I helped to advise at the University of Illinois found a solver scheme that was able to overcome this computational barrier (Yang and Baumgardner 2000). Applied in 2D, this newly discovered solver method demonstrated spectacular runaway solutions (Baumgardner 2003) using experimental data published for the rheological behavior of the mineral olivine (Kirby 1983).
Application of advanced material models developed for metals to study rock deformation
With the numerical issues largely in hand, a next important task was to gain deeper insight into the physics responsible for such dramatic weakening behavior. From research activities in my computational fluid dynamics group at Los Alamos, I became aware of models being developed for predicting the deformational behavior of metals under extreme conditions. I began collaborating with Mark Horstemeyer, then with Sandia National Laboratories, to apply these advanced material models to rock (Horstemeyer 1998; Horstemeyer and Baumgardner 2003). Since both metals and rock are polycrystalline solids, the same basic physics applies to both. A crucial advantage of these advanced models is their ability to represent and track important features of the deformational history of the crystalline material the lattice level, including the history of dislocation density. This tracking of the deformational history is accomplished my means of auxiliary variables known as internal state variables.
Application of an internal state variable model to silicate rock with the additional parameters fit to experimental data has provided important insight into the physical mechanism responsible for the weakening associated with runaway in the mantle. The chief mechanism appears to be what is known as dislocation glide (Sherburn et al. 2013). Figure 28 provides a series of snapshots from a 2D calculation from Sherburn et al. (2013) in which runaway occurs. The initial width of the cold anomaly is 300 km. In a companion case with all conditions identical except that the cold anomaly width is 100 km, no runaway occurs. From these investigations we believe that our conclusion that cold lithospheric material can indeed undergo runaway avalanching behavior to the base of the mantle is indeed on a secure experimental and theoretical footing.
Figure 28. Snapshots from a 2D finite element calculation that includes a material model with internal state variables that track features of the material’s stress-strain history, including its dislocation density. Snapshots are at times of (a.) 0 days, (b.) 2 days, (c.) 45 days, and (d.) 80 days. Height of the computational domain is 2890 km, the thickness of the earth’s mantle. In the hardening-recovery format of this model, it is the dynamic recovery resulting from dislocation glide that causes dramatic weakening and enables the cold, gravitationally unstable material at the top boundary to plunge to the bottom of the domain in only a few weeks’ time. (From Sherburn et al. 2013)
Seismic tomography support for a recent episode of catastrophic plate tectonics
In terms of observational support for an episode of runaway subduction in the earth’s recent past, a prominent feature in all seismic tomography models for the mantle since the mid-1980’s is the ring of material at the base of the mantle roughly below the circum-Pacific subduction zones that displays astonishingly high seismic wave speed (Baumgardner 2003). At the center of this ring, on either side of the earth, are two blobs of material in the lower mantle with surprisingly low seismic wave speeds. The latter two features, one beneath the south central Pacific and the other beneath Africa, are often referred to as ‘superplumes’. These features are displayed in Figure 29, with blue isosurfaces bounding regions with high seismic wave speeds and the red isosurfaces bounding the regions with low seismic wave speeds. The difference in seismic wave speed between the blue and red isosurfaces—if due solely to temperature—implies a temperature difference of at least 3000°C. This represents a major problem for the conventional earth science community, since at present subduction speeds, it requires some 50-100 million years for subducted material from the earth’s surface to reach the base of the mantle. During such a time interval the subducted rock would lose most of its temperature contrast with the surrounding mantle. Therefore, there has been a concerted effort to account for most of the seismic wave speed difference in terms of difference in chemical composition (for example, Kellogg et al. 1999). However, in my opinion all these attempts are highly contrived. The most straightforward explanation is that the contrast in seismic wave speeds reflects a temperature difference. If indeed that is correct, it represents powerful support for a recent episode of catastrophic plate tectonics involving runaway transport of large amounts of cold rock from the earth’s surface and upper mantle to the base of the lower mantle.
Figure 29. Two isosurfaces of seismic wave speed from global seismic tomography. The blue isosurface surrounds regions of high seismic wave speed, while the red isosurface surrounds regions of low seismic wave speed. The left panel is a view along the zero longitude meridian above Europe and Africa, while the right panel is a view along the 180° longitude meridian above the Pacific. If the contrast in seismic wave speed is due solely to temperature differences, the temperature contrast between red and blue regions is at least 3000°C.
Numerical modeling of Flood tectonics in 3D spherical geometry
In regard to modeling the runaway tectonics associated with the Flood in 3D, I have applied what is sometimes known as the Newtonian analog method for scaling the rock strength in 3D to mimic the runaway conditions actually demonstrated in 2D. With this approach the effects of a highly nonlinear stress-dependent rheology realized in 2D are partially accounted for by using a linear Newtonian deformation law and reducing the value of the viscosity in 3D. This approach led to papers in 1986, 1990, and 1994 with increasing levels of realism in the 3D models (Baumgardner 1986, 1990, 1994b). The 1994b paper used particles to track the motions of plates at the earth’s surface and modeled the breakup of a Pangean-like supercontinent with runaway motion of the ocean lithosphere. Increased spatial resolution and the addition of a yield criterion for the surface layer in the deformation law yielded even better realism (Baumgardner 2003).
Snapshots from an illustrative 3D calculation are provided in Figure 30. The case is initialized with plates covering the entire surface. Portions of these plates are defined to have a layer of continental crust that gives them buoyancy. The initial distribution of continental crust is intended to approximate, in a rough sense, that of late Paleozoic Pangea. Particles are used to track the plates as they move across the surface. Each plate, with its own Euler rotation pole, moves as a rigid unit over the surface of the spherical domain. On each time step, an iterative Newton-method procedure is used to find the Euler rotation for each plate that yields zero net torque on that plate. In zones of divergence between oceanic portions of plates, new plate is added to each of the diverging ones. In zones of convergence, if one or both of the plates is oceanic, plate area is removed to represent subduction. When two continental sections of plate collide, edge forces are applied to both plates that resist the convergence, affect their Euler rotations, and prevent significant overlap.
The TERRA code uses an iterative multigrid technique on each time step to solve for velocity at each grid point from a balance of forces on each cell. In conjunction with this velocity calculation is an iterative scheme for solving for pressure that enforces mass conservation. The energy equation is also advanced in time in an energy conserving manner. These calculations are performed relative to a reference model for the earth matched to the Preliminary Reference Earth Model (PREM) of Dziewonski and Anderson (1981) using the Birch-Murnaghan equation of state (Birch 1947). This calculation includes viscosity variation within the mantle using a temperature-dependent power-law formulation, much simpler than that of the 2D calculation of Figure 28, combined with the Newtonian analog method mentioned above to mimic runaway conditions. More details of the numerical approach are provided in Baumgardner (1994).
The 3D case of Figure 30 applies a relatively simple initial temperature perturbation of a zone of cold rock around much of the margin of the supercontinent, with an additional zone through what is now southeastern Asia, Indonesia, and Australia. Advancing the conservation and force balance equations in time yields a solution in which Pangea pulls apart and the resulting continental blocks move approximately toward their present locations. Utilizing the reduced viscosity which the 2D calculation displays during runaway, the plate motion in 3D unfolds over the short span of a few months. By the third snapshot in time in Figure 30, much of the cold rock that initially had been at the surface is now spread out over the bottom boundary.
One of the major difficulties to this sort of forward modeling approach is the lack of knowledge of the initial conditions. It is surprising that initial conditions as simple as the ones used in this example could yield as realistic a result as they do. However, hundreds to trial cases were run to obtain even this level of realism. It would be exciting to be able to start the calculation even further back in time to reproduce some of the Paleozoic plate motions. But that will require an even more extensive exploration of the possible starting mantle temperature distributions. Including plumes at appropriate locations almost certainly will yield improved results. I am hopeful that a graduate student who currently is eager to apply and modify TERRA for his thesis research in the process will be able to discover some starting conditions that result in realistic plate motions for at least some of the Paleozoic part of earth history.
The insights gained thus far by the application of numerical modeling tools to investigate various physical aspect of the Flood hopefully will encourage others to join this enterprise. There is a veritable wealth of new understanding about the true history of the earth just waiting to be discovered. I encourage anyone with the skills and motivation to join this exciting quest.
Figure 30. Snapshots from a 3D finite element calculation using the planetary mantle dynamics code TERRA. Calculation is initialized with a Pangean-like distribution of plates and continental blocks with insipient subduction in narrow zones as indicated in panels a. and d. Snapshots at 75 days are shown in panels b. and e. and at 125 days in panels c. and f.
We have seen that one of the main reasons that people trained in the sciences today ignore the account in the Torah of a recent global Flood cataclysm is that they are persuaded that the standard geological time scale is in large measure correct. Several generations of scientists now have come and gone with no serious challenge to this nearly universal conclusion. Recently, however, there have emerged diverse lines of evidence that call this long-held conclusion into question. Probably the easiest one for most people to grasp is the discovery of well-preserved original tissue in all sorts of organisms from deep in the geological record. One of the best examples is that published in 2005 by Mary Schweitzer of flexible blood vessels still containing red blood cells from a T. rex femur. However, it is radioisotope dating of rocks that undergirds the conviction of most scientists that the earth truly is billions of years old and that some 65 million years have elapsed since dinosaurs were alive. It is this radioisotope data that causes most scientists to remain steadfast in their convictions regarding the age of the earth’s rocks despite the soft tissue discoveries.
To me this is why the research results of the RATE team are so important. The RATE results identify the root cause of the conflict. They reveal the precise reason why the radioisotope data consistently indicate the earth is billions of years old while, by contrast, the Torah reveals that it is only thousands. The reason is, quite plainly, that the assumption of the constancy of nuclear decay rates is wrong. The high retention levels of radiogenic helium in zircons are a direct affirmation of this conclusion. Although not quite as direct, the widespread presence of polonium halos in granitic rocks and the ubiquitous presence of C-14 from deep in the geological record, also RATE findings, likewise affirm that nuclear decay rates must have been considerably higher during episodes in the past than they are today.
Therefore, if one is inclined to accept the Torah as truly being revelation from God to Moses, there no longer remains any good reason for not accepting at face value the Torah’s time line for the earth’s physical history. The only major event with geological consequences mentioned in the Torah after God’s creation of the heavens and the earth and His filling the newly formed earth with living creatures is the Flood in the days of Noah. Therefore, the logic seems simple that the portion of the rock record filled with fossils must be the portion of the rock record generated by the Flood. The implication is that the Flood was a cataclysm of a magnitude and intensity that is almost beyond the human mind to imagine. In some regions kilometers of crystalline rock was eroded away by turbulent water, while in others kilometers of sediment was deposited in laterally extensive layers, many covering hundreds of thousands of square kilometers. Below the oceans, all the seafloor from before the Flood was rapidly subducted into the mantle at ocean trenches while entirely new seafloor was created by seafloor spreading at mid-ocean ridges. The rapid plate motion rifted apart the pre-Flood continent, moving the resulting continent blocks thousands of kilometers across the face of the earth.
This paper summarizes a few of the physical aspects of this cataclysm that have been investigated by numerical modeling. Included is a beginning attempt to model the erosion, sediment transport, and sediment deposition of the Flood at the global scale. One objective is gain insight into the mechanisms responsible for the megasequences that are a prominent aspect of the fossil-bearing sediment record across the world, including the erosional unconformities that separate them from one another. The paper also summarizes efforts to investigate some of the large-scale tectonics aspects of the cataclysm. Some progress seems to have been made to understand how ocean lithosphere from near the earth’s surface could possibly plunge through some 2800 km of solid rock to reach the core-mantle boundary within only a few weeks’ time. Some progress also appears to have been made in modeling surface plate motions during the cataclysm.
Pulling all these threads together, the Flood of Noah comes into view as the essential key to a correct understanding of earth history. Especially important in putting the puzzle together correctly is the recognition that the Flood is responsible for the fossil-bearing sediment record, from the Ediacaran to the early Piocene. Since so few professional earth scientists have ever considered this even as a possibility, there is currently no shortage of exciting research issues to explore. The field is wide open for new discoveries and research contributions.