Answers in Genesis had its first ever live chat on Facebook today, where people could discuss the article When Was the Ice Age in Biblical History with one of the authors. Unfortunately, the author who chatted was the editor of Answers magazine, Mike Matthews, not Andrew Snelling, AiG’s geologist. The basic idea of the article is that the entire Pleistocene Epoch can be compressed into a 250-year period between 2250 and 2000 B.C.
Young-Earth creationists (YECs) attempt to squeeze most of the geological record into the brief span of Noah’s flood, even though the Bible does not state that the flood was responsible for Earth’s sedimentary rocks, and does not even require that the flood covered the entire Earth (read more here and here). There is an important exception to this, however. Glacial sediments and other deposits of the Pleistocene Epoch—the “ice age” —are usually considered to be post-flood deposits by YECs.
“The Bible doesn’t say, ‘And then there was an Ice Age.'”
If the authors had stopped right there, they would have written a great article. The Bible does not teach us about ice ages any more than it teaches us about genetics or chemistry. But they did continue, and the result is another bad answer from Answers in Genesis. As blogger James McGrath noted in regards to this article:
I continue to wonder whether the folks at AiG are working to make Christianity look as foolish as possible, even while claiming their aim is to promote it.
Like much else in YEC geological thinking, there are many problems with this article. The geological, paleontological, and archeological records left by Pleistocene Epoch events and organisms are both detailed and complex; and difficult—or impossible—to compress into the suggested YEC timetable. A simpler solution would be to stick to what the Bible actually says about ice ages, which is nothing at all. The whole idea that the ice ages can be tucked into a 250-year period following Noah’s flood is an unnecessary imposition on the text of Scripture, and scientifically indefensible.
SUMMARY OF THE ARTICLE
A good way to summarize the paper by Snelling and Matthews is by presenting the timeline given in the article and accompanying poster:
2350 B.C. – Noah’s flood
2350 to 2250 B.C. — Antarctica becomes covered by forests, then gets covered by its ice cap.
2250 to 2000 B.C. — Ice age on the rest of Earth.
approx. 2300 B.C. — First mastadons.
2250 B.C. — First human tools in archeological record. Tower of Babel.
approx 2200 B.C. — First woolly mammoths.
approx 2200 to 2100 B.C. — Age of the Neanderthals.
approx 2150 B.C. — Humans migrate into Australia.
approx 2100 B.C. — Humans migrate into North America.
2000 B.C. — End of the Ice age. Abram born.
The authors give a variety of “Bible facts,” “geological facts,” and “archeological facts” to support the timeline.
A SHORT LIST OF WHAT WOULD NEED TO BE FORCED INTO 250 YEARS (THE LIST COULD BE MUCH LONGER)
Here is a brief summary of events one would have to squeeze into a 250-year long ice age:
Formation and melting of ice caps. According to the YECs, the ice ages would have begun with the accumulation of ice several kilometers thick over much of North America and Northern Europe, as well as ice caps over many mountain ranges elsewhere in the world. YECs propose that there was extreme snowfall in polar areas during the first part of the ice age. In order to form a 3000 meter thick ice cap over North America, as much as 30 kilometers of dry powdery snow would need to accumulate and compact (powder snow has a density about 1/10 that of glacial ice). Less snow would be required if it were not powder snow, but powder snow is a good assumption based on modern precipitation over ice caps. If the continental glaciers took 100 years to form, this would be 300 meters of snowfall per year. Not only would the ice need to accumulate in a short amount of time, it would need to do a tremendous amount of erosion and deposition to create Earth’s diverse glacial landscapes, and then entirely melt away, perhaps in a few decades. YECs have a hot-ocean proposal for causing the intense precipitation; I have not read their proposal for melting the ice in only a few decades.
Multiple glaciations. Geologists believe that there have been multiple periods of glaciation during the Pleistocene (such as the Wisconsinan, Illinoian, and various pre-Illinoian glaciations), separated by warm interglacial periods. YECs advocate that there was just one ice age, perhaps with some fluctuations along the margins of the ice sheets. If there were only one glaciation, something had to happen that would make geologists think that there were multiple periods of continental and alpine glaciation. The evidence for multiple advances and retreats of the continental ice sheets includes deposition of non-glacial sediments such as wind-blown loess in between glacial till layers, presence of volcanic ash layers and well-developed soils between glacial deposits, and temperate forest fossils deposited between layers of glacial sediments. YECs either ignore this evidence, or state that there must be some alternative explanation, but the evidence is clear: there was not just one ice age.
Ancient soils. There are many places where soil layers formed during the Pleistocene, including instances where there are multiple, stacked paleosols, like in the Palouse Loess of Eastern Washington. Some exposures of the silty, wind-borne Palouse deposits have as many as nineteen well-developed ancient soils stacked on top of each other, implying alternating periods of silt accumulation and soil development, each of which would take time. The soil horizons include animal burrows and root casts, which indicate the passage of time. The paleosols in areas of dryer climate in the Palouse contain typical semiarid soil features such as petrocalcic horizons (a calcite-cemented layer at depth within the soil), which form in the advanced stages of the soil forming process.
Supervolcanoes. Some of the “supervolcano” eruptions that occurred during the Pleistocene of the western United States were one to two thousand times greater in volume than the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens. The distal volcanic ash deposits from the Yellowstone Caldera, which had three separate massive eruptions, covered much of the United States, and undoubtedly had global effects. These ash deposits are interbedded with glacial deposits in the central United States and southern Canada, so at least some of the eruptions had to occur between periods of maximum glaciation. But there’s more:
There were less dramatic, but sometimes still enormous, lava flow eruptions before, between, and after the three caldera eruptions. For example, long after the third supervolcano eruption, the caldera filled in stages with approximately 1000 cubic kilometers of rhyolitic lava.
After all of these caldera eruptions, as well as after the massive rhyolite eruptions that occurred after them, the Yellowstone Plateau became covered by an ice cap of its own. When did this happen in the YEC calendar?
Not only was there an ice cap that formed after the final volcanic activity in Yellowstone, there are glacial deposits that are older than some of the volcanic rocks. Therefore, the YECs somehow have to explain a sequence of smaller eruptions–supervolcano–smaller eruptions–supervolcano–smaller eruptions–supervolcano–glaciation–smaller eruptions–glaciation, all in 250 years.
It wasn’t just Yellowstone. Other Pleistocene supervolcanoes include Long Valley Caldera in California, Valles Caldera in New Mexico, Taupo in New Zealand, and Toba in Indonesia. According to this YEC ice age model, all of these had to erupt between 2250 and 2000 B.C.!
Hyperevolution. According to the YECs, there was very rapid diversification of life forms after the flood. There may have been a few thousand “kinds” of animals on Noah’s Ark, but these evolved into the tens of thousands of species that were on Earth during the Pleistocene (I’m just thinking of vertebrates). An example mentioned in the article is the diversification of the “elephant kind” into elephants, mastodons, and woolly mammoths. How many generations would this have taken? This all happened between 2350 and 2200 B.C., an evolutionary explosion that would make your average punctuated equilibrium advocate blush. This is especially true for mastodons, who have a very different tooth structure from that of elephants and mammoths.
Human prehistory. The YEC ice age model compresses all of human prehistory—Neanderthals, paleolithic, neolithic, and all ancient history before 2000 B.C—into the time from the flood (2350 B.C according to their time chart) to Abraham (2000 B.C.). It looks on their poster like the Neanderthals were around for roughly 100 years. The YECs have to completely ignore archeological sites with multiple levels of habitation.
Human expansion. Humans had to multiply, differentiate into races, and migrate from Ararat and Mesopotamia to the entire world in 250 years. The poster’s timeline has humans entering Australia around 2150 B.C. and North America around 2100 B.C. This happened while supervolcanoes were erupting and either snow was accumulating by tens to hundreds of meters per year over parts of North America, or the landscape was being flooded by rapidly melting ice sheets. No wonder the boy to the right is running!
ADDITIONAL SIGNIFICANT PROBLEMS WITH THE ARTICLE
1. “As a massive ice sheet expanded over Canada, it drove out most living things, and then it continued to push south into the Ohio valley.”
According to this YEC ice age scenario, Northern Hemisphere glaciation started about one hundred years after Noah’s flood. At the beginning of the YEC ice age, the surface of Canada and the Ohio Valley would have been mostly barren, with little vegetation and even fewer animals, as they would have had to multiply and migrate from Noah’s Ark. However, there is an abundant and complex fossil record—of both animals and plants—from the time before continental glaciers appeared on North America. There is a continuity in the fossil record from Pliocene to Pleistocene flora and fauna that is completely inconsistent with the YEC story.
2. “During the Ice Age the earth’s landscapes, forests, and grasslands bore little resemblance to our own.”
As a matter of fact, the types of landscapes and biomes in the ice ages were very similar to those present on Earth today, they were just all compressed toward the equator. Moving from northern Canada to Central America during the Pleistocene, one would have transited ice caps, tundra, boreal forests, temperate forests or grasslands, subtropical forests or deserts, and tropical forests, just like today. The locations of these would have been different—further south in general—but the plants and animals would have been very similar, minus a few well-known species that have gone extinct, such as mastodons and sabre-toothed cats.
3. “The Bible gives us an inerrant chronology for marking historical events. It tells exactly how many human generations passed from the Flood to Abraham’s birth: eight.”
I agree that Genesis is describing real historical events, such as Noah’s flood, the Tower of Babel, and the life of Abraham. I disagree with the interpretation that the flood was global, as well as the idea that it had anything to do with the formation of the geological record. The Bible is completely silent on the topic of glaciation or ice ages.
The issue of whether or not the genealogies in Genesis were meant to be complete is a matter for debate. At the most, the chronologies in Genesis might give us a timetable for Noah’s flood, which I believe was a local flood, though one that seemed universal to Noah. Many conservative Bible scholars (and even prominent YECs such as the late Henry Morris) believe that the biblical chronologies are more flexible. It is a huge and unjustifiable leap to go from this timetable to inserting a massive ice age into a 250-year period.
4. “Apart from Antarctica and a few high mountain chains, sediments deposited before the Ice Age do not show signs of cold-weather environments or ice sheet activity. Indeed, the world appears to have been a pretty balmy place until the Ice Age.”
This paragraph refers to a period of 100 years. That is one hundred years for Earth’s surface to recover from the flood, soils to form, plants to disperse (somehow temperate North American plant seeds all end up in temperate parts of North America, Asian plants ended up in Asia, etc.), ecological succession to occur at various locations, animals to multiply and migrate to their appropriate biomes and continents from their starting point in Turkey (kangaroos somehow knew to hop to Australia, where pre-ice age kangaroo fossils are found), all while volcanoes were erupting, hyper-hurricanes were brewing, and hundreds of meters (in some cases) of Pleistocene sediments were depositing.
5. So it is reasonable to conclude that the start of the Ice Age in the Northern Hemisphere (the Pleistocene) roughly coincides with the Babel judgment, around a century or so after the Flood (perhaps 2250 BC).
No it isn’t. Look again at the serious geological problems I outlined above. The Bible is not about the Pleistocene.
6. “The Bible mentions that some very important cities were established by Abraham’s day and continued to thrive throughout Old Testament times.”
“In no case do these settlements, including Ur, date as early as the end of the Ice Age. At the time of Ur’s settlement it was a port city on the Persian Gulf, but this gulf did not even exist during the Ice Age.”
When Abraham was born in Ur, migrated to Haran, and then to Canaan—with a side trip to Egypt—these were all homes to well-established civilizations with long histories and sizable populations. Nothing in the Bible or archeology hints otherwise. The city states of Mesopotamia were not just getting settled after a few hundred years of geological chaos. The Mesopotamian plain was pretty much the way it had been described back in Genesis 2, without a catastrophic makeover. Abraham was firmly planted in the flow of human history, which had been going on for a few millenia before him.
7. “Archaeologists have found thousands of campsites and small settlements where Noah’s descendants lived after the Babel dispersion during the Ice Age. These early pioneers were daring explorers and settlers, quickly reaching as far as Australia and the Americas.”
These settlements and campsites have a complex history, with many signs of long-term use, often with multiple levels of occupation that cannot be crunched down to the YEC time scale.
8. “The Bible does not reveal much about the biology and geology of the Ice Age,”
I’ll say an “Amen” to that…
“but it does tell us about the languages, culture, and migrations of the people of that time.”
The Bible says a good amount about the languages, culture, and migrations of people in the ancient Near East—the nations listed in the Table of Nations in Genesis 10—but it does not go beyond that.
9. “Various species of the saber-tooth cat (such as Smilodon fatalis) began appearing as the Ice Age got underway, though not in the areas first settled by humans. The woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) did not appear until later, but as the cold increased and grasslands spread across northern Asia and North America, its numbers quickly filled the grassy plains.”
This is YEC hyperevolution in action. Again, how many generations did it take to get from “cat kind” to lions, tigers, jaguars, cougars, sabre-toothed cats, and house cats?
10. “Another interesting development during the Ice Age was the appearance of Neanderthal people, whose range was restricted to Europe and the Near East. Like all other humans, they were descendants of the people who scattered from Babel. Their remains do not appear until the middle of the Ice Age, and they disappeared as the glaciers reached their maximum and the cold, dry weather reached its worst.”
As I already mentioned, the Neanderthals would have lasted for about 100 years. In this time frame the YECs have to compress the various Neanderthal morphologies, as well as signs that various tool technologies developed in one area and spread to other areas. Many Neanderthal archeological sites have multiple levels of occupancy, which is difficult to cram into 100 years.
11. “Sometime after the demise of Neanderthal people, the first “stone age” villages begin appearing all over the Old World. We find them by the thousands, in some instances spread over several acres, and apparently predating any “cities” we know of.”
Again, the YECs are compressing thousands of years of history into a century. If the demise of the Neanderthals was in 2100 B.C., then the entire Neolithic, with its “stone age villages,” lasted from 2100 to 2000 B.C. At the end of this brief stone age, there were full-blown city states in Mesopotamia.
12. “We also know from the fossil record that they faced constant flooding, dust storms, supervolcanoes, massive earthquakes, meteorites, and downpours of snow or rain on a scale never before seen.”
We know from the geological record (not the fossil record as much) that the Pleistocene had times of flooding but also times of dryness, times of dust storms (loess deposits) but also times of landscape stability (soil formation), and supervolcanoes, but also soil development and other geological processes between eruptions.
But we do not know any of this from the Biblical record! Perhaps that is a sign that the Bible is not about the Pleistocene after all.
Whatever the relationship is between the Bible and the ice ages, this is not it. Fortunately there are better ways to think about the Pleistocene Epoch in relation to the Bible.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that the Bible says nothing about ice ages.
If one is convinced from the Bible that Earth must be young there are some good alternatives:
One could possibly say, “I don’t know when the ice age occurred.” That would be better than presenting bad science as Christian apologetics.
One could allow there to be a tension between “I believe the Bible teaches a young Earth” and “Science seems to tell a story of an old Earth.” That might not be intellectually satisfying to many of us, but it would also be better than presenting bad science as Christian apologetics.
One could say that there is only an appearance of age; that this is all part of what God created in the beginning. That raises interesting theological questions, but this too would be better than presenting bad science as Christian apologetics.
At a minimum, I would hope that YECs would be willing to budge a bit on the chronological certainty proclaimed by some leading YEC writers and speakers. Henry Morris was willing to do this. This would help YECs to avoid what appears to the rest of us as chronological absurdities, such as Neanderthals existing for only a century between 2200 and 2100 B.C.
There are good old-Earth alternatives that I hope young-Earth creationists would consider:
There is the old-Earth creationism of Hugh Ross. The science of the Pleistocene and earlier ages stays intact, and he advocates the unity of the human race including the Tower of Babel. This would be far better than presenting the bad science of YEC as Christian apologetics.
There are those who advocate non-concordism, the idea that there isn’t a whole lot of overlap between Genesis and geology. Many of these scholars hold to Biblical inerrancy. Some of them don’t (C.S. Lewis for example) but are still well within the bounds of Christian orthodoxy. This would also be far better than the hyperliteralism that leads to hyperevolutionary YEC being presented as Christian apologetics.
The geological problems that confront the YEC ice age scenarios are the same as those that plague all of YEC flood geology: Too many events, too little time. In the span of a few centuries, soils develop, forests grow, animals migrate from Ararat to the entire Earth, animals evolve at a very fast rate, the Antarctic ice cap forms, Earth is plunged into an ice age, supervolcanoes erupt, supervolcanoes erupt again, and again, an ice cap forms over Yellowstone (I guess it cooled down rather quickly), humans migrate everywhere in a time of geological chaos, all the ice melts, and Abraham arrives on the scene in a setting where it seems like none of this happened!
It simply isn’t in the Bible, and it doesn’t work scientifically
My fear in writing a critique like this is that someone who has been steeped in YEC ideology will have their faith crushed when they see that an important aspect of YEC does not work. They have been taught that if YEC isn’t true, then neither the Bible nor Christianity is true. This is a false dichotomy. Christianity does not need to be propped up by faulty apologetics. Christianity—and the truthfulness of the Bible—is not dependent on the YEC chronology. There are and have been many Christians who reject YEC and who are thoroughly orthodox in their beliefs, such as Charles Spurgeon, Francis Schaeffer, John Piper, and J.I. Packer. Many of Christianity’s leading defenders, such as C.S. Lewis, Timothy Keller, Norman Geisler, and William Lane Craig accept an old Earth.
My other fear is that no one would write a critique like this. Bad apologetics—and there is little doubt that YEC is bad apologetics—can cause believers to abandon their faith (hence many of our youth are “already gone”), and put an unnecessary stumbling block before non-Christians who might otherwise be open to the gospel.
My wish is that nothing I have written be taken as an attack against the authors or any other YEC.
With love for the church,
Grace and Peace
I quoted blogger James McGrath (“I continue to wonder whether the folks at AiG are working to make Christianity look as foolish as possible…”). McGrath is right on this, but in another case I sided with Answers in Genesis president Ken Ham against McGrath:
I would rather get the gospel right and geology wrong than get geology right and the gospel wrong!
According to Collins and Collins, Snelling believes the ice over North America was only 700 meters thick rather than up to 3000 meters thick as glaciologists believe. This thinner ice sheet would not have had the same dynamics as a thicker ice sheet, meaning that it would not have spread as rapidly (and YECs like things to move along quickly), and would have had different patterns of erosion and deposition than what is observed in the landforms and deposits of the glaciated areas. They also report that other papers by Vardiman, Snelling, and Oard suggest that the ice age lasted between 500 and 700 years. That doesn’t help the YEC cause much. There are still too many events, too little time.
I have critiqued work by Dr. Andrew Snelling before:
Since I spent some time discussing Yellowstone volcanism, I’ll mention that some YECs argue that volcanism hit a peak during the flood, and has been tapering off since then. The Institute for Creation Research published an article entitled Volcanoes of the Past, which I critiqued last year in Young-Earth creationism and the intensity of volcanism.
The excellent blog Naturalis Historia has a post on the Toba supervolcano, which erupted a volume of 2800 km3 of tephra about 74,000 years ago. Ash deposits from this eruption lie on top of human artifacts in India. In the YEC ice age chronology, that means that the Toba eruption had to occur after the Tower of Babel, so some time after 2250 B.C.
Neanderthals or Neandertals? I used the spelling used by Snelling and Matthews.
There have been a number of articles on the web the past few weeks that deserve a long analysis, but some short notes will have to do.
THE ICE AGE (SINGULAR) OCCURRED BETWEEN 2250 AND 2000 B.C. — Answers in Genesis posted an article in February by Andrew Snelling and Mike Matthews entitled When Was the Ice Age in Biblical History? As usual, none of this is necessary Biblically, or workable scientifically.
2350 to 2250 B.C. — Antarctica becomes covered by forests, then gets covered by its ice cap.
2250 to 2000 B.C. — Ice age on the rest of Earth.
approx. 2300 B.C. — First mastadons.
2250 B.C. — first human tools in archeological record.
approx 2200 B.C. — First woolly mammoths.
approx 2200 to 2100 B.C. — Age of the Neanderthals.
approx 2150 B.C. — Humans migrate into Australia.
approx 2100 B.C. — Humans migrate into North America.
2000 B.C. — End of Ice age. Abram born.
Again, the Bible says none of this! When Abram is born, he is born into a stable civilization on a stable Mesopotamian plain that isn’t much different than how it is described in Genesis 2. There has been no massive transformation of the Tigris-Euphrates valley!
But the geological problems with the YEC picture dwarf the biblical problems. Not only do they have to squeeze Antarctic glaciation, Neanderthals, the ice ages (there is plenty of evidence that glaciation happened multiple times), and human migration into Australia and the Americas into 250 years, one would have to throw in things like multiple eruptions of a number of “supervolcanoes” (e.g. Yellowstone, Toba, Long Valley), growth of other volcanoes (e.g. Cascade Range), growth of modern coral reefs, and deposition of in some cases many hundreds of meters of ice age sediments around the world. Add in a few biological marvels as well — hyperevolutionary adaptive radiation going from “elephant kind” to mastodons, woolly mammoths, and modern elephants; as well as dispersion of animals and humans throughout the globe.
Don’t teach this to the church or our youth as biblical truth or scientific apologetics!!!!
EVAPORITES (SUCH AS SALT) FORMED FROM MAGMA — YEC geologist Tas Walker has endorsed Stef Heerema’s magmatic model for for the origin of large salt formations. Heerema’s Journal of Creation article is here, and a more recent YouTube video is here. I am writing a longer response to this one, but for now I’ll say that this all shows that, despite YEC claims to the contrary, the Journal of Creation cannot possibly be a peer-reviewed journal.
ENVIRONMENTALISM IS A THREAT TO CIVILIZATION — So says Evangelical writer Cal Beisner, a spokesman for the Cornwall Alliance. There are some good things in the Cornwall Alliance’s Declaration on Environmental Stewardship, but…
Here’s what Beisner recently said about why humans could not be doing any catastrophic harm to the Earth by adding excess greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, as reported at Huff Post Green:
“That doesn’t fit well with the biblical teaching that the earth is the result of the omniscient design, the omnipotent creation and the faithful sustaining of the God of the Bible. So it really is an insult to God,” Beisner said.
Isn’t that sort of like saying that it doesn’t matter what we do to our bodies—smoking, excess alcohol and drug use, etc.—because God has designed us in such a way that the things we do could not possible cause us catastrophic harm?
THE DOCTRINE OF CREATION — The biblical doctrine of creation isn’t primarily about how old the Earth is. See Bigger Than We Think by David Wilkinson.
In September 2011, sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean declined to the second-lowest extent on record. Satellite data from NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) showed that the summertime ice cover narrowly avoided a new record low.
Melt season in 2011 brought higher-than-average summer temperatures, but not the unusual weather conditions that contributed to the extreme melt of 2007, the record low. “Atmospheric and oceanic conditions were not as conducive to ice loss this year, but the melt still neared 2007 levels,” said Walt Meier of NSIDC. “This probably reflects loss of multi-year ice in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, as well as other factors that are making the ice more vulnerable.”
The low sea ice level in 2011 fits the pattern of decline over the past three decades, said Joey Comiso of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Since 1979, September Arctic sea ice extent has declined by 12 percent per decade.
“The sea ice is not only declining; the pace of the decline is becoming more drastic,” he noted. “The older, thicker ice is declining faster than the rest, making for a more vulnerable perennial ice cover.”
While the sea ice extent did not dip below the record, the area did drop slightly lower than 2007 levels for about ten days in early September 2011. Sea ice “area” differs from “extent” in that it equals the actual surface area covered by ice, while extent includes any area where ice covers at least 15 percent of the ocean.
Arctic sea ice extent on September 9, 2011, was 4.33 million square kilometers (1.67 million square miles). Averaged over the month of September, ice extent was 4.61 million square kilometers (1.78 million square miles). This places 2011 as the second lowest ice extent for both the daily minimum and the monthly average. Ice extent was 2.43 million square kilometers (938,000 square miles) below the 1979 to 2000 average.
Climate models have suggested that the Arctic could lose almost all of its summer ice cover by 2100, but in recent years, ice extent has declined faster than the models predicted.
I’m not a global warming denier, which bothers some of my friends. I do believe that human activities are affecting Earth’s climate. This does point out, however, the importance of geological studies of Quaternary (ice age to present) climate systems. Whatever is happening today, even if caused by humans, can only be fully understood in its geological context.
American researchers have completed the second deepest Antarctic ice core ever drilled. Analysis of dust and entrapped air bubbles give a picture of the Earth’s atmosphere and climate over the past 100,000 years.
On Friday, Jan. 28 in Antarctica, a research team investigating the last 100,000 years of Earth’s climate history reached an important milestone completing the main ice core to a depth of 3,331 meters (10,928 feet) at West Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide (WAIS). The project will be completed over the next two years with some additional coring and borehole logging to obtain additional information and samples of the ice for the study of the climate record contained in the core.
As part of the project, begun six years ago, the team, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), has been drilling deep into the ice at the WAIS Divide site and recovering and analyzing ice cores for clues about how changes in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have influenced the Earth’s climate over time.
Friday’s milestone was reached at a depth of 3,331 meters–about two miles deep–creating the deepest ice core ever drilled by the U.S. and the second deepest ice core ever drilled by any group, second only to the ice core drilled at Russia’s Vostok Station as part of a joint French/U.S./Russian collaboration in the 1990s.
“By improving our understanding of how natural changes in greenhouse gas influenced climate in the past, the science community will be able to do a better job of predicting future climate changes caused by the emissions of greenhouse gases by human activity,” said Kendrick Taylor, chief scientist for the WAIS Divide Ice Core Project.
The drilling site is about 966 kilometers (600 miles) from the South Pole, at an ice divide (which is analogous to a watershed divide) in West Antarctica, where the ice is flowing out to the sea in opposing directions.
“This location was selected because it is the best place on the planet to determine how greenhouse gases have changed during the last 100,000 years” said Taylor. Since it began, the WAIS Divide Ice Core Project has continuously collected ice from the surface down to a depth of 3,331 meters. The ice at this depth fell as snow about 100,000 years ago. The high annual snowfall at the site enables individual annual layers of snowfall to be identified and counted (much like counting tree rings) back to about 40,000 years. Below that, the layers become too compressed to allow annual layers to be resolved. Scientists hope for at least decadal resolution to this point, sufficient for the science goals to be achieved.
The drilling ceased 100 meters (328 feet) above the contact between the ice and the underlying rock, to avoid contaminating a possible water layer at the ice-rock contact. The basal water system may consist of water-saturated, ground-up rock, and has not been exposed to the earth’s surface for millions of years. It may harbor a unique and pristine biological environment that the U.S. Antarctic Program does not wish to contaminate.
A few thoughts:
We cannot understand climate change—natural or human-induced—without understanding the geologic past. Quaternary (ice age) history gives us a baseline for understanding the present.
It may be bitter cold on the surface of Antarctica, but much of the Antarctic ice cap is warm-based, meaning that the ice-rock boundary is wet rather than having the ice frozen to the rock substrate. Just like anywhere else in the Earth’s crust, there is a geothermal gradient within the ice. The deeper you go in the ice, the warmer the temperature, and three kilometers of ice is plenty thick to go from way below zero up to the melting point of ice.
Young-Earth creationists try to explain the origin of the Antarctic ice sheet as a post-flood event within the past 4500 years. A thorough rebuttal is found at the Answers in Creation site.
A few items from the many tabs I have open in my browser…
Mammoths in the meadows? — Japanese researchers hope to replace the nucleus of a fertilized elephant egg cell with the nucleus of a woolly mammoth, then implant the cell in an elephant’s womb to create a living woolly mammoth. This is much more feasible than the scenario in Jurassic Park, as we have what should be pretty close to intact woolly mammoth cells, recovered from frozen carcasses in Siberia. From Yahoo News/AFP: Researchers aim to resurrect mammoth in five years.
Moral blind spots — What things do we accept as normal that future generations will look at as morally reprehensible? Kwame Anthony Appiah asks that question on the Washington Post site: What will future generations condemn us for? Appiah comes up with the following list:
Our prison system
Industrial meat production
The institutionalized and isolated elderly
Amy Hall at Stand to Reason Blog comments, “I think Appiah misses the key element of these past atrocities [slavery and lynching]: they involved a denial of intrinsic human value in a particular group of human beings.”
What would I add to the list? Global poverty — Over a billion people without adequate food, clean water, sanitation, education, security, etc.
A missions leader I know recently wrote:
In a world that is cruel to the marginalized, where cycles of poverty keep generations in often hopeless circumstances, where basic needs like clean water, sanitation and a meal a day can be only dreamed of and where corrupt governments, officials and institutions deny basic justice we need to be reminded of the heart of God. The prophet Micah said it cogently: “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
Diamonds do not form from coal — Geology.com addresses this common misconception: How Do Diamonds Form? (Somewhat related: a refutation of the young-Earth creationist assertion that carbon-14 in coal proves that the Earth is young can be found here: Carbon-14 in Coal Deposits).
Religious discrimination in academia — From The Evangelical Ecologist: Stars Shine on Christian Researcher — The University of Kentucky discriminated against astronomer C. Martin Gaskell because he is a Christian, and they left an e-mail trail as proof.
Cleansing the internet — I think this is a great idea: having the default internet service pornography-free. If you want porn, you would specifically have to ask for it as part of your internet package. This could happen in the near future in the United Kingdom. From Cranach: Default blocking of all internet porn. This would not be censorship, as a person who wanted access to pornography as part of their internet package could still request it. One reason I think it would be a great idea: young people in our society are exposed to way too much sexual content that they are not ready for, as in this news report: Calif school eyes accounts of sex by 2nd graders.
The results of a University of Illinois survey of scientists include the following:
90% of the scientists surveyed agreed that global temperatures have risen compared to levels from before 1800.
82% agreed that human activity been a significant factor in this increase of mean global temperatures.
97% of climatologists surveyed agreed with anthropogenic global warming (AGW).
At the other end of the spectrum, only 47% of petroleum geologists agreed with this.
The researchers chose scientists listed in the the American Geological Institute’s Directory of Geoscience Departments, 2007 edition.
Geologists in general have been more skeptical about AGW than have other scientists, though I’ve noticed a considerable shift on this in publications of the Geological Society of America and the American Geological Institute. Two reasons for this skepticism that have been proposed are:
A deep historical perspective. Geologists know that Earth’s climate has fluctuated throughout its history by purely natural means, and that a number of factors have caused this, including changing brightness of the sun, changing oceanic circulation patterns, plate tectonics, and cyclical variations of Earth’s orbit. The Quaternary Period, i.e. the past 1.8 million years, has had an especially variable climate, with long glacial maximum periods, punctuated by interglacial periods, such as the one we live in now.
The close association of geology to the fossil fuel industries. Perhaps there is something psychological here, with a denial that the oil, gas, and coal that we are so closely tied to are the cause of something bad.
I think it is significant that 97% of climatologists surveyed believe global warming is real and that humans have been a significant factor in this. But climatologists will continue to need the input of geologists to gain a fuller understanding of how Earth’s climate works, in both the short term and long term.