There are still a few days left in the year, but here are the ten most-read articles on The GeoChristian for 2012. Only one of them was written this year.
- Dr. Dino still in prison — This has consistently been the most-read article on The GeoChristian since I wrote it almost four years ago. Kent Hovind, a.k.a. “Dr. Dino,” is a favorite of many young-Earth creationists, but is wrong about just about everything, from geology to law to a number of conspiracy theories.
- Stegosaurus in Cambodian temple? — Is there really a dinosaur engraved at Ta Prohm? Nah.
- Augustine: The Literal Meaning of Genesis — St. Augustine rips into those who use bad science to prop up their Christian faith.
- The stratigraphic column — not a figment of geologists’ imaginations — Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian… YEC flood geology doesn’t explain this.
- John MacArthur on the age of the Earth and theistic evolution — I like John MacArthur as a Bible teacher, but…
- Dinosaur footprints part 3 — Why dinosaur footprints are powerful evidence against YEC flood geology.
- John Piper and the age of the Earth — One of many thoroughly orthodox Bible teachers who believes that Earth could be billions of years old.
- Seeing God in nature — A quote from author Philip Yancey on the value of God’s creation.
- Death before the fall — an old-Earth Biblical Perspective — The Bible does not teach that animals did not die before Adam’s sin.
- Young-Earth creationism and the intensity of volcanism — My analysis of a really bad age-of-the-Earth argument from the Institute for Creation Research.
Grace and Peace
The June 2012 issue of the Institute for Creation Research’s Acts & Facts magazine came to my mailbox this week, and the short article “Volcanoes of the Past” by John D. Morris caught my attention. The article argues that Noah’s flood was a time of massive volcanic eruptions (“supervolcanoes”), and that volcanic activity on Earth is now experiencing a rapid post-Flood decline.
The cornerstone of young-Earth creationist (YEC) geology is the belief that Noah’s Flood was global in extent, occurred sometime around 2300 BC, and is responsible for most of Earth’s geological features. For a variety of reasons that I have discussed elsewhere (here, here, and here for example), I don’t think that any of this is Biblically necessary nor scientifically viable. A corollary of this “Biblical Catastrophism” or “Flood Geology” is that the catastrophic activity of Noah’s flood continued after the deluge, but with exponentially declining intensity over time. According to this theory—which is not held by all YECs—the centuries after the Flood were chaotic times, with rapidly changing climate (including a single ice age), rapid sedimentation, and biological diversification. According to some, much of Earth’s Cenozoic record was deposited during these few short centuries. The difficulties with this scenario are almost as numerous as the problems with YEC flood geology, but I won’t get into that now.
The heart of Morris’s argument is that we see evidence of massive “supervolcanoes” in the rock record, and that we don’t have any of these erupting today, which is a true statement. Furthermore, if one plots the volume of material extruded by historic volcanoes, one sees a decline over time. This statement is quite simply not true. In his own words,
Through an understanding of today’s volcanic eruptions, we can better comprehend those of the past. However, the rock record of the past suggests that yesterday’s volcanoes were evidently “supervolcanoes,” accomplishing geologic work hardly comparable to those we currently observe.
If we plot the volume of ash and lava extruded by volcanoes throughout history—comparing Vesuvius (79 A.D.) and Krakatoa (1883) to more recent volcanoes, such as Mount St. Helens (1980) and Pinatubo (1991)—we come to the conclusion that the earth processes are quieting down. Then if we plot the materials blown out by volcanoes that erupted during the great Flood and soon thereafter (inferred only from the materials left behind), then we conclude an exponential decline in the power of earth’s volcanoes over time. Flood volcanoes were many times greater than those recently witnessed.
The article includes a graphic showing volumes of volcanic products from several eruptions, with an obvious decline from the Huckleberry Ridge Tuff from the Yellowstone (Island Park) eruption (2500 km3), down through Mount St. Helens (a mere 1 km3).
A person with little or no geological background reading the article and examining the figure could only come to one conclusion: There has been a steady decline in the intensity of volcanism on Earth. There are a number of problems, however, with Morris’s article.
First, Morris’s graphic is rather deceptive, especially given the content of the accompanying text. These five eruptions are portrayed from oldest to youngest, and from largest to smallest. What the diagram doesn’t show, however, is that there are many thousands of volcanic eruptions throughout the same time period which don’t fit the YEC post-Flood residual catastrophism model. The following graphic from the US Geological Survey gives a much more realistic depiction of the variability of volcanic intensity over time:
This USGS diagram is highly selective as well, as it lists only a handful of eruptions, but it is much more representative of actual trends. The Holocene (Recent) Epoch—which all YECs would consider post-Flood—has a history of a wide range of volcanic eruptions, ranging from very small to large eruptions such as that of Tambora in 1815 and Mount Mazama approximately 7700 years ago. There is no evidence that I know of that the frequency or intensity of any eruption type is decreasing with time. Instead, smaller eruptions are occurring almost continuously around the world, while the larger eruptions occur with frequencies measured in centuries or millenia.
Morris named four historic eruptions as part of his evidence that volcanism on Earth is slowing down.
If we plot the volume of ash and lava extruded by volcanoes throughout history—comparing Vesuvius (79 A.D.) and Krakatoa (1883) to more recent volcanoes, such as Mount St. Helens (1980) and Pinatubo (1991)—we come to the conclusion that the earth processes are quieting down.
These four eruptions—out of thousands he could have chosen—don’t even illustrate the trend that Morris is advocating. Rather than going from larger to smaller, the trend makes a zig-zag:
One could selectively choose four or more eruptions to show any trend they wanted: increasing volume, decreasing volume, steady volume, or random. It would be far better to look at thousands of eruptions over a long period of time, and Morris has not done that.
The second problem I want to mention is that the eruptive history of the Yellowstone region is far more complex than Morris implies. The figure in the article shows the products of two Yellowstone-related eruptions: the Huckleberry Ridge Tuff and Lava Creek Tuff. There have actually been three large eruptions from the Yellowstone area:
- Island Park Caldera, Huckleberry Ridge Tuff, 2.1 million years, 2500 km3
- Henry’s Fork Caldera, Mesa Falls Tuff, 1.2 million years, 280 km3
- Yellowstone Caldera, Lava Creek Tuff, 0.6 million years, 1000 km3
The trend is from largest to smallest to something in-between. Again, Morris selected the two eruptions that supported his thesis and ignored the other eruption.
But there is much more to the story of Yellowstone. In between the mega-eruptions, and in the time since the most recent, Yellowstone has had numerous smaller eruptions of rhyolitic and basaltic lava. Therefore the trend in Yellowstone is really mega-small-mega-small-mega-small. But there is more: the Yellowstone volcanic area is part of a string of volcanic centers that extend from northwestern Nevada through the Snake River Plain up to the area of most recent explosive activity in Yellowstone. There have been dozens of “supervolcano” eruptions along this trend, with hundreds or thousands of smaller eruptions in between.
A third problem with Morris’s article is that the more ancient rock record isn’t just a history of supervolcanoes. Throughout Earth history there have been large volcanoes and small volcanoes. The large volcanoes include explosive “supervolcanoes” such as Yellowstone Caldera, Long Valley Caldera, and Toba, Indonesia; and also flood basalts (the term “flood” has nothing to do with Noah’s flood) such as the Columbia River Basalts. But throughout the same time period there have been numerous smaller eruptions, whether from stratovolcanoes such as Mt. Fuji or Mt. Rainier, or from even smaller volcanoes such as cinder cones and maars.
It is clear that there is no trend in Earth history going from larger volcanic eruptions to smaller. Young-Earth creationists might counter by saying that it is still a fact that there have been massive volcanic eruptions in the past, and that none of these are occurring today. The standard geological explanation is that the larger the eruption, the greater the time gap between eruptions. Yellowstone apparently erupts every 0.6 to 0.9 million years; we may be due for an eruption, but it could still be hundreds of thousands of years away. These eruptions are spaced too far apart to say whether or not their frequency is changing over time.
The YEC has a greater problem, and that is trying to fit a large number of very large eruptions into a very short time. If the Yellowstone eruptions occurred after the Flood (the distal ash is in what most YECs would call post-Flood deposits), then three very large eruptions had to occur in the span of a few centuries perhaps just a little more than 4000 years ago. In between these eruptions there would have had to have been time for weathering, vegetation growth, and a number of smaller volcanic eruptions. All of these volcanic deposits would have had to be emplaced in time for the Ice Age, which lasted only a few hundred years. And all of this is a gross oversimplification of everything that would have had to have happened in a very short period of time.
Unfortunately, most Acts & Facts readers will be completely unaware of the numerous weaknesses in this article. Morris has not made a case that the frequency or intensity of volcanism is decreasing with time.
With love for my YEC brothers and sisters in Christ, and with prayerful concern for those who are turned away from Christianity by bad arguments in defense of the Bible.
Grace and Peace
P.S. This post-Flood residual catastrophism concept actually has led to one of the best papers to come out of the YEC movement, Earthquakes and the End Times, by Austin and Strauss. A common claim among end-times prophecy teachers is that the frequency and intensity of earthquakes has been increasing over time, leading up to the return of Christ. Austin and Strauss refute this teaching, calling it a Christian urban legend. One impetus behind the article, aside from the fact that there is no geological evidence for an overall increase of earthquake activity on Earth, is this YEC idea that intensity of all sorts of geological activities should be declining over time. I briefly discussed the “Earthquakes and the End Times” article back in 2007 (here).
From the European Space Agency: Battered Tharsis Tholus volcano on Mars
The latest image released from Mars Express reveals a large extinct volcano that has been battered and deformed over the aeons.
By Earthly standards, Tharsis Tholus is a giant, towering 8 km above the surrounding terrain, with a base stretching over 155 x 125 km. Yet on Mars, it is just an average-sized volcano. What marks it out as unusual is its battered condition.
Shown here in images taken by the HRSC high-resolution stereo camera on ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft, the volcanic edifice has been marked by dramatic events.
At least two large sections have collapsed around its eastern and western flanks during its four-billion-year history and these catastrophes are now visible as scarps up to several kilometres high.
The main feature of Tharsis Tholus is, however, the caldera in its centre.
It has an almost circular outline, about 32 x 34 km, and is ringed by faults that have allowed the caldera floor to subside by as much as 2.7 km.
It is thought that the volcano emptied its magma chamber during eruptions and, as the lava ran out onto the surface, the chamber roof was no longer able to support its own weight.
So, the volcano collapsed, forming the large caldera.
HT: Yahoo News
Sarah Palin — I am a conservative and Republican, but I am no fan of Sarah Palin. I groaned when McCain selected her for his running mate, as it completely took away the “experience” argument against Obama. Rod Dreher (Crunchy Con) has a good review of Going Rogue.
Warm-blooded dinosaurs — This has been debated for thirty some years, but Earth Magazine reports on further evidence for warm-bloodedness.
More high highs than low lows — Global warming skeptics regularly report whenever there is a record low temperature somewhere. “Thirty-two below in Bismarck, North Dakota; sure seems like global warming…” The National Science Foundation reports that record highs in the U.S. in the 2000s have been twice as common as record lows (HT: Geology News)
Volcanoes galore — Many people are not aware that there is a volcano erupting somewhere all the time. The Volcanism Blog posts updates on many of these.
Some recent images from NASA’s Earth Observatory Image of the Day:
Grace and Peace
Some of my favorite recent images from NASA’s Earth Observatory Image of the Day:
Swirling sea ice near Baffin Island (credit: NASA/Terra/MODIS)
Apollo 11 landing site (credit: NASA/Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter). Images of other Apollo landing sites are at NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter site. The orbiter isn’t in its final orbit, and future images will have better resolution.
Apollo 11 launch pad (credit: NASA/Earth Observing-1 satellite)
Grace and Peace
From today’s Astronomy Picture of the Day: Erupting Volcano Anak Krakatau. You will have to go to APOD to see it in all its glory.
Grace and Peace
From NASA’s Earth Observatory: Sarychev Peak Eruption, Kuril Islands, Russia.
From the Earth Observatory description:
A fortuitous orbit of the International Space Station allowed the astronauts this striking view of Sarychev Volcano (Kuril Islands, northeast of Japan) in an early stage of eruption on June 12, 2009. [...] Ash from the multi-day eruption has been detected 2,407 kilometers east-southeast and 926 kilometers west-northwest of the volcano, and commercial airline flights are being diverted away from the region to minimize the danger of engine failures from ash intake.
This detailed astronaut photograph is exciting to volcanologists because it captures several phenomena that occur during the earliest stages of an explosive volcanic eruption. The main column is one of a series of plumes that rose above Matua Island on June 12. The plume appears to be a combination of brown ash and white steam. The vigorously rising plume gives the steam a bubble-like appearance; the surrounding atmosphere has been shoved up by the shock wave of the eruption. The smooth white cloud on top may be water condensation that resulted from rapid rising and cooling of the air mass above the ash column. This cloud is probably a transient feature: the eruption plume is starting to punch through. The structure also indicates that little to no shearing wind was present at the time to disrupt the plume. [...]
By contrast, a cloud of denser, gray ash—probably a pyroclastic flow—appears to be hugging the ground, descending from the volcano summit. The rising eruption plume casts a shadow to the northwest of the island (image top). Brown ash at a lower altitude of the atmosphere spreads out above the ground at image lower left. Low-level stratus clouds approach Matua Island from the east, wrapping around the lower slopes of the volcano. Only about 1.5 kilometers of the coastline of Matua Island (image lower center) are visible beneath the clouds and ash.
I’ve got this one set as my desktop background this week.
Grace and Peace
Here’s a video of an eruption of an underwater volcano near the South Pacific island of Tonga on March 19, 2009:
Honolulu Advertiser: 7.9 quake off Tonga could intensify volcano’s eruption
From NASA’s Earth Observatory: Submarine Eruption in the Tonga Islands:
Grace and Peace
I did not watch President Obama’s State of the Union Address, but the geoblogosphere is abuzz about something Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal had in his Republican Party response:
But Democratic leaders in Congress — they rejected this approach. Instead of trusting us to make wise decisions with our own money, they passed the largest government spending bill in history, with a price tag of more than $1 trillion with interest. While some of the projects in the bill make sense, their legislation is larded with wasteful spending. [This includes] $140 million for something called “volcano monitoring.” Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, D.C.
That was a rather clueless statement. Has he never heard of Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, or other major Cascade Range volcanoes, each of which is capable of killing hundreds or thousands of people, and causing hundreds of millions or multiple billions of dollars of damage? Or the threat of volcanoes in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska to aviation? Or the even greater, though more remote, threat of giant calderas such as Long Valley in California, or Yellowstone? We can debate about the budget for “volcano monitoring” but to put it in the category of “wasteful spending” as Jindal did is just plain ignorance.
Perhaps we should axe the National Weather Service’s budget for tracking tropical storms. After all, who would ever need to know that a hurricane was about to hit, ummm… Louisiana.
HT: This is in many places in the geoblogosphere. The Volcanism Blog has a list of geobloggers who have commented on this.
Grace and Peace
P.S. Here are two useful articles:
Scientific American: Bobby Jindal and volcano monitoring: What was he talking about?
Volcano monitoring likely saved many lives — and significant money — in the case of the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines (where the United States had military bases at the time), according to the USGS. The cataclysmic eruption lasted more than 10 hours and sent a cloud of ash as high as 22 miles into the air that grew to more than 300 miles across. The USGS spent less than $1.5 million monitoring the volcano and was able to warn of the impending eruption, which allowed authorities to evacuate residents, as well as aircraft and other equipment from U.S. bases there. The USGS estimates that the efforts saved thousands of lives and prevented property losses of at least $250 million (considered a conservative figure). [emphasis added]
After 9000 years of dormancy, Chaiten Volcano, in a remote part of southern Chile, has been in an eruptive phase since May 2008. NASA’s Earth Observatory posted these images of the 1/19/09 dome collapse yesterday:
These images above don’t do justice to the high resolution versions available at Earth Observatory:
In these false color images, the red areas are vegetation, and the gray areas are volcanic ash and mud.
A dome collapse is what it sounds like. Chaiten Volcano is similar to Mt. St. Helens in Washington, in that it produces viscous lava that piles up in a dome, as opposed to the fluid lava that is produced by basaltic volcanoes such as those in Hawaii. As the dome grows, it can become unstable and collapse, which is sort of like removing a cork from a bottle of champagne. The result is an eruption of ash, such as what you see in these images. (For a picture of the Chaiten dome before its collapse, click here).
This volcano is in an area with a low population density. The town of Chaiten has been evacuated since the volcano rumbled into activity eight months ago.
The Volcanism Blog gives regular updates on Chaiten Volcano.
Grace and Peace
Magma Cum Laude has a couple of nice paintings of Vesuvius, including this one:
Pierre-Jacques Volaire, The Eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, 1777; from the North Carolina Museum of Art
Grace and Peace
From NASA’s Earth Observatory: Deriba Caldera, a volcano in the Darfur region of Sudan. This caldera was formed in a large eruption about 3,500 years ago.
The geometry is a little more obvious in Google Earth:
Like Crater Lake in Oregon, this caldera was formed by a massive eruption, likely followed by a partial collapse of the underlying magma chamber. Deriba Caldera is in a much dryer climate than Crater Lake, but there is still sufficient precipitation to form two small lakes in the caldera, one of which is in a smaller crater that has formed inside the caldera (the lake on the left).
Grace and peace