Seafloor Spreading and Continental Drift

Alan Feuerbacher

Mid-ocean ridges mark the position of spreading centers. Earthquakes are concentrated at these ridges, as well as at the transform faults that cut across them, and at subduction zones. Spreading centers are strikingly evident in a depth-map of the Atlantic Ocean. Parallel transform faults extending across the Atlantic, from South America to Africa, are even more striking evidence of continental drift.88

As the material from Islands explained, the thermal subsidence and heat flow out of the oceanic crust follow physical laws that can be used to predict their values. "The History of the Atlantic"89 explains:

The lithosphere can be regarded as being the upper thermal-boundary layer of the mantle convection system. This boundary model leads to far-reaching predictions about the flow of heat out of the ocean floor and about the depth of the ocean. The predictions have largely turned out to be true. Consider the lithosphere of the Atlantic in vertical section. Created at high temperatures at the center of the mid-Atlantic ridge, the plate cools first at its upper surface, where it is in contact with seawater at a temperature of about zero degrees Celsius. As heat flows out of the upper surface into the ocean the plate cools and thickens. The theoretical description of thermal conduction yields a simple equation that predicts the flow of heat through the plate. The equation in turn yields [a mathematical expression] for the flow of heat out of the plate into the ocean as a function of the age of the ocean floor.... The validity of the heat-flow expression can be tested by measuring [the heat flow] at various locations on the ocean floor and comparing the measured values with the predicted ones.... Measurements made at such locations are in close agreement with the predicted values.... The equation works well for lithosphere that is less than 120 million years old.

As the lithosphere cools it undergoes thermal contraction. The rate of vertical contraction can be calculated from the heat flow. This contraction, in conjunction with the gravitational-loading effect of the ocean water, is responsible for the depth of the ocean floor. Again theory yields a simple mathematical expression.... Empirical data indicate that this expression, like the one for heat flow, yields correct values for lithosphere no older than 60 million years.

If the ocean basins had sunk during one year, 4400 years ago, it is highly improbable that the heat flow and ocean depth would obey physical laws based on age.

The existence of mirror-image magnetic anomalies on each side of spreading centers, showing identical radioisotope dates and similar thermal subsidence, is another evidence of seafloor spreading. The radioisotope dates consistently get older farther from the ridge. The dating of the pattern of magnetic anomalies is also consistent with similar dating of magnetic anomalies of rocks on land. The rate and direction of spreading is inferred from dating of magnetic anomaly patterns, and has been measured directly by making use of extraterrestrial reference points.

These 'space-geodetic' techniques make it possible to measure the distance between points 1,000 kilometers apart to a precision of a centimeter or less.... One particularly fruitful technique, known as very-long-baseline interferometry (VLBI),.... [achieved] the one-centimeter precision required for studies of crustal deformation.... about 1980. By that time a global network of VLBI stations had been established by [NASA, which was able] to collect and process enough VLBI data to estimate rates of motion along baselines spanning both the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans; the rates generally differed from the calculations of plate-tectonic models.... by only a few millimeters per year.90

A consideration of the formation of magnetic anomalies is quite instructive. Here is a description of how the rocks in the oceanic crust acquire their magnetization.91

The magnetization acquired by lava flows and other igneous rocks as they cool is termed thermoremanent magnetization [TRM]. Because igneous rocks start out in a molten state, a reasonable initial hypothesis about TRM would be that it is produced by the magnetic alignment of grains of magnetite in partially molten rock. This hypothesis is wrong.... above the temperature of 550DegC the intensity of magnetization.... rapidly decreases to zero. By the time the sample reaches 580DegC, the rock has lost all of its magnetization.

The temperature at which a magnetic mineral loses its magnetism is the Curie temperature of that mineral.... at 580DegC [rock] is still completely solid. The magnetic grains in the rock cannot possibly rotate as the sample cools below this temperature.... Most igneous rocks.... acquire most of their TRM while cooling through a narrow temperature range just below their Curie temperatures. After the rock has cooled, the TRM is firmly locked into the rock, where it will remain as a magnetic memory for hundreds of millions of years, provided the rock is not reheated or degraded by chemical processes.

As the oceanic crust cools, it takes on the direction of magnetization of the earth's magnetic field. Note that the rock must cool to below 550DegC before it retains the magnetization. But the magma welling up into a spreading center has a temperature of about 1350DegC, which is very near the melting point. As the magma spreads out from the center, it cools. The upper portion, in contact with the ocean water, cools rapidly, but it takes a much longer time to cool deep down. The total magnetism measured above the ocean floor is an average over the total depth that has come below the Curie temperature. Remember that all ocean crust has a pattern of magnetic anomalies imprinted on it -- stripes parallel to a mid-ocean ridge. If it is the case, as the God's Word or Man's book says, that92

the plates moved, the sea bottom sank, and the great trenches opened, allowing the water to drain off the land....

then all the magnetic anomalies and other physical characteristics discussed above must have been formed in one year. But is this reasonable? If the Atlantic Ocean, say, opened in one year, the ocean bottom would have been a great sea of magma,92a and it could not have cooled below its Curie temperature for more than a few hundreds of feet by now. Even if the earth's magnetic field could have reversed itself hundreds of times in one year, only a thin layer of crust could have taken on the striped pattern seen today. And yet deep drilling shows that the magnetic anomalies are many kilometers deep. Also, the ocean bottom would have to be much hotter near its surface than is actually observed, as it would not have had tens of millions of years in which to cool, and the observed heat flow through the crust would be much different from the calculated value. Nor could depth be expressed as a mathematical function of the age of the crust measured in millions of years.

Geological scientists were not keen, at first, on the notion of continental drift. The idea had been rejected by most geologists since Alfred Wegener first put forth his theory on drift in 1915, because they could not come up with a plausible mechanism that caused the drift. But by the mid 1960s the evidence became so compelling that most geologists were forced to accept it. The evidence came in the form of magnetic polarity reversals recorded by three different kinds of geological mechanisms: (1) Terrestrial volcanic rocks that contained a pattern of reversals of the polarity of the earth's magnetic field were dated by the potassium argon method. The dates were charted on a time scale, showing the pattern in time of polarity reversals for the last four million years. (2) A pattern of magnetic polarity reversals was found in the basalt rock that forms the ocean floor. This pattern was found to be symmetrical about mid-ocean ridges, and the magnetic profile across the ridge was correlated with the terrestrially derived time scale. (3) The polarity intervals of the reversal time scale were demonstrated in deep-sea sediment cores.

The book The Road to Jaramillo93 documents the major discoveries in magnetic reversals that led to the revolution in the earth sciences. It describes the development of potassium-argon dating, and the application of the method to date the magnetic polarity reversals found in rocks. From 1963 through 1966, eleven increasingly refined time scales were published, showing the dates of geomagnetic polarity reversals in terrestrial rocks. Scales seven through eleven were published by the geologists Allan Cox, Brent Dalrymple, and Richard Doell. In publishing scale number eleven in May 1966, they named the most recently discovered polarity reversal event the Jaramillo event. The story of these discoveries makes fascinating reading:94

A highly speculative and poorly received hypothesis was advanced in 1963 by Fred J. Vine and Drummond Matthews, and independently by Lawrence W. Morley. It held that the solid rock of the ocean floor is imprinted with the record of field reversals in the form of a sequence of alternately magnetized stripes; the stripes, with widths proportional to the alternating intervals of the polarity-reversal scale, formed as newly created ocean floor spread from mid-ocean ridges. In February 1966, geomagnetic polarity-reversal time scale eleven, containing the Jaramillo event, was successfully correlated with magnetic-anomaly profiles across mid-ocean ridges. Overnight the Vine-Matthews-Morley hypothesis was confirmed; the acceptance of seafloor spreading thus became inescapable. The revolution had been triggered. Almost simultaneously, from a third independent source, the polarity intervals of the reversal time scale were demonstrated in deep-sea sediment cores.95

In 1965 the National Science Foundation vessel Eltanin took seismic and magnetic anomaly data while criss-crossing several mid-ocean ridges in the Pacific. The data from Leg 19 of that trip became the key to the landmark paper published by Fred Vine in December, 1966, that confirmed the concept of seafloor spreading:96

In it he compared the magnetic anomalies from various mid-ocean ridges and rises (Juan de Fuca, Gorda, East Pacific, Reykjanes, Carlsberg, Mid-Atlantic, and Red Sea) with anomalies calculated from models of the seafloor that assumed rocks of alternately normal and reversed polarity that matched the geomagnetic reversals dated in the potassium-argon/polarity-reversal time scale. In a masterful integration, he touched on all of the factors that contributed to or were the consequences of the assumption that

'the entire history of the ocean basins, in terms of ocean floor spreading, is contained frozen in the ocean crust. The hypothesis is supported by the extreme linearity and continuity of oceanic magnetic anomalies and their symmetry about the axes of ridges. If the proposed reversal time scale for the last four million years is combined with the model, computed anomaly profiles show remarkably good agreement with those observed, and one can deduce rates of spreading for all active parts of the mid-oceanic ridge system for which magnetic profiles or surveys are available. The rates obtained are in exact agreement with those needed to account for continental drift.'

.... The polarity-reversal time scale was indeed the key to the meaning and interpretation of a very great, global array of magnetic data preserved in ocean floor crust and sediment.

.... A series of papers by the scientists at [Columbia University's ] Lamont [Geological Observatory] followed shortly [after the April, 1966 American Geophysical Union meeting]; they demonstrated repeatedly that the symmetrical magnetic-anomaly pattern along the mid-ocean ridges (both active and dormant seafloor-spreading centers) was present over vast portions of the South Atlantic, Indian, North Pacific, and South Pacific Oceans. These papers also made clear that the pattern is essentially identical in all of the different oceanic regions, and that it is produced by the same mechanism that generates the alternate strips of normally and reversely magnetized basalt. Furthermore, although each spreading center has opened at a unique rate, thus producing a stretched pattern at a fast spreading center and a compressed pattern at slower ones, the various magnetic profiles could be matched perfectly. By the use of the terrestrially derived polarity-reversal time scale, the Lamont group could determine accurately the rates of crustal spreading beneath the sea. By extrapolating that rate, with the implicit assumption (open to great question at that time) that spreading had occurred at a fixed rate during the last 80 million years, and using the profiles from the South Atlantic Ocean as the most trustworthy standard, [Lamont geologists] proposed, in 1968, the remarkable polarity-reversal scale shown as Fig. 8.10 [which shows the correlation of magnetic stripes from all over the world].

The essential accuracy of this time scale has been verified by several subsequent studies.

.... [At the A.G.U. meeting Neil Opdyke of Lamont] reported that the Lamont group had successfully determined the magnetism of deep-sea cores and identified polarity reversals, including the Jaramillo event. Thus, the time scale of the reversalists was corroborated from a third independent source.

.... Immediately after that momentous meeting of the A.G.U. in April, Opdyke returned to Lamont, and after several months of fever-pitched activity, he.... published a most significant and influential paper entitled "Paleomagnetic Study of Antarctic Deep-Sea Cores" in Science, on October 21, 1966. They demonstrated that (1) magnetostratigraphy, coupled to biostratigraphic zonation, permitted reliable dating and correlation between widely separated sites; (2) cores generally held a more complete and finely detailed magnetic record of the time interval they represented than was obtainable from other studies; and (3) the cores provided a third independent source of polarity-reversal data; the core data could be matched with the reversals defined by the potassium-argon/polarity-reversal scale and also with the seafloor magnetic-anomaly profiles.

On a sequence of seven cores taken in the Antarctic region, they performed magnetic measurements and biostratigraphic subdivision (based on Radiolaria) demonstrating that the "magnetic reversals and faunal boundaries are consistently related to each other".

.... J. Tuzo Wilson, in reviewing the extraordinary discoveries that confirmed that the record of reversals is preserved in terrestrial igneous rocks, seafloor basalts, and deep-sea sediments, has remarked that these data constitute a revolution in earth science. "Three different features of the Earth all change in exactly the same ratios. These ratios are the same in all parts of the world. The results from one set are thus being used to make precise numerical predictions about all the sets in all parts of the world."

Thus The Road to Jaramillo shows the three independent lines of evidence for seafloor spreading. Note the correlations among these and previously mentioned data. The spreading rates calculated from hot-spot tracks match those calculated from magnetic anomalies, which are based on radioisotope dating. They both match spreading rates directly measured by space-geodetic techniques. The age sequence of islands on hot-spot tracks, as measured by radioisotope methods, matches the age sequence of the magnetic anomalies of the sea-floor on which the islands sit. These correlations lend strong support to the accuracy of radioisotope dating, as well as scientific dating methods generally. Most of all, they show that much of the ocean floor formed over a period of about one hundred million years, and the oldest ocean floor is about two hundred million years old.

These physical observations -- the worldwide correlation of magnetic anomalies on land, in the ocean basement rocks, and in ocean bottom sediments; the thermal subsidence and flow of heat out of oceanic crust; the observation that trenches form at subduction zones -- are fatal to the notion that the deep ocean basins could have opened in one year, or that a shallow, pre-existing ocean basin could have sunk in place.

There is a new geophysical technique called seismic tomography, which is similar to the CAT scan (Computer Aided Tomography) in medicine, except that it uses seismic waves instead of X-rays to make images of the earth's interior. This technique can directly map the earth's mantle in three dimensions, and shows the existence of hot flows of mantle material that drive continental drift.97

The accumulation of terranes at many continental boundaries is another evidence for continental drift. Terranes are essentially pieces of ancient continents and islands that have drifted against the edges of continents and stuck there. Often they have been squashed, rotated and extended, producing a jumble of fragments. These geologic collages are typical of western North America and Alaska. The movement of the plate that is west of the San Andreas Fault, which splits California, is even today pushing continental fragments toward Alaska. See "Terranes"98 and "The Growth of Western North America."99

On geologic time scales the earth's crust is plastic and will flow, like taffy. Below a depth of about 120 kilometers

the mantle remains solid but becomes ductile -- about as ductile as window glass at room temperature, ductile enough to flow on geologic time scales.100

Window glass does flow, given long periods of time, as can sometimes be seen in the several hundred year old window glass of old cathedrals, such as Notre Dame,101 which has become thickened on the bottom. But we know what happens when we try to make glass flow too fast -- it shatters. A similar principle applies to rocks and continental drift. Any fast flow of the crust would shatter the rock into tiny fragments. There would be no evidence of flow, such as folded rock layers extending over hundreds of miles. Everything would be an uninterpretable jumble of tiny pieces of rock. The idea that continents could drift around, ocean basins could sink, and mountain ranges could rise in just one year, is incompatible with the physical characteristics of rock. This is clearly seen in the effect of earthquakes that raise mountains by several tens of feet. Boundary regions are shattered. These movements cannot produce the highly folded sedimentary rock layers observed worldwide. Sudden movements break rock layers, they do not fold them.

There is even evidence that continental drift occurs in cycles, where continents collide and form supercontinents, break up, drift around, and collide again.102, 103 There is much evidence that most of the continents were near the equator in at least one of these cycles, and that all of them were near the equator at one time or another. This explains the biological evidence of tropical animals and vegetation all over the world. Note that these cycles take a very long time -- hundreds of millions of years. The evidence they occurred could not have been produced in a single year just four thousand years ago.

These cycles of continental drift have produced many episodes of mountain building. This is in contradistinction to the idea that all the high mountains of the world were formed in the one year of the Flood:

.... oceans have repeatedly opened and closed in the vicinity of the present-day North Atlantic, while a single ocean has been maintained continuously in the vicinity of the Pacific.

At present the sea-floor crust of the Pacific is being subducted under all the continents that surround it, whereas the floor of the Atlantic generally butts up against surrounding continental blocks. In our framework this means that the continents are still in the process of dispersing after the breakup about 200 million years ago of the most recent supercontinent.... Pangaea....

A second underpinning of our supercontinent-cycle hypothesis is the timing of various episodes of mountain-building and episodes of rifting. The ages of mountain ranges that could have been produced by the compressive forces that accompany continental collisions reveal a surprising regularity. This kind of mountain building was particularly intense, occurring in several parts of the world, during six distinct periods. The periods were broadly centered on dates about 2,600 million years ago, 2,100 million years ago, a time between 1,800 and 1,600 million years ago, 1,100 million years ago, 650 million years ago and 250 million years ago. The timing shows a certain periodicity: the interval between any two of these periods of intense compressive mountain building was about 400 to 500 million years.

What is more, about 100 million years after each of these periods of mountain building there appears to have been a period of rifting.... The mountain building of 250 million years ago, of course, was followed by the rifting and eventual breakup of Pangaea.104

The fit of the borders of the continents when reassembled into Pangaea is remarkable. The best known example is that the bulge of the eastern edge of South America fits into the curve of the western edge of Africa. The distribution of various types of rock on the rifted continents shows that they were once part of one large continent. So does the distribution of fossil plants and animals.

Plate tectonics explains the history of many mountain ranges. The Appalachians were formed when ancient North America collided with Africa and Eurasia, crushing and folding the eastern seaboard. They have since been heavily eroded. Similar things are happening today in the Himalayas, where the Indian subcontinent is colliding with Asia. "The Structure of Mountain Ranges"105 describes what is happening:

As the Indian and Eurasian plates collided the oceanic lithosphere north of the Indian landmass was bent down and thrust under Tibet, much as the plates under the Pacific Ocean are now being thrust under Japan, the Aleutians and South America. (Geologists call this process subduction.) It was as if the Indian plate were a conveyor belt trundling around a spool under southern Tibet.

Sometime between 55 and 40 million years ago the Indian landmass itself struck the south coast of Asia, and at that point the conveyor belt began to jam; the speed of the Indian plate was reduced from between 10 and 20 centimeters per year to about five centimeters per year.... As India plunged under Tibet with tremendous force, a northward-dipping fault tore through the northern edge of the subcontinent. The crust under the fault plane continued to move northward and downward, but a slice of continental shelf and deep crust above the fault plane was in effect shaved off the oncoming subcontinent and thrust backward on top of it. Between 20 and 10 million years ago the process was repeated: the first fault became inactive and a second fault formed at a deeper level. A second slice of Indian crust was thrust onto the subcontinent, lifting up the first slice. The eroded remnants of these two slices of ancient Indian crust are exposed today in the Himalayas, and they constitute the bulk of the range.

The heavy weight of the Himalayas bends the Indian plate downward south of the range. Over millions of years sediments eroded from the mountains have filled the resulting trough, forming the broad plains of the Ganges and Indus rivers. Seismological and drilling results obtained by the Oil and Natural Gas Commission of India have documented the presence of the trough in the Precambrian bedrock under the sediments. The bedrock dips smoothly down toward the mountains, reaching a depth of about five kilometers at the front. Some 200 to 300 kilometers south of the front, at the edge of the trough, the bedrock is exposed at the surface.

It should be clear from the above description that the Himalayas formed over a long period of time, long enough to dump a five kilometer depth of sediment into the Ganges plain. India has been densely inhabited for at least 3000 years. If the Flood occurred 4400 years ago, and we assume that the Ganges plain has filled evenly over that time period, we find that the rate of sedimentation is nearly four feet per year. It is clear that this is far too high a rate for human habitation, and floods of sufficient magnitude to cause it have not been historically observed. If we assume that the Himalayas formed during or shortly after the Flood, then all that sediment would have to be eroded before human habitation, about 1300 years. This implies a sedimentation rate of 12 feet per year. The Himalayas currently erode at about three feet per thousand years. What would be the mechanism to produce such an incredible rate of erosion and sedimentation?

Alternatively, we could speculate that the Himalayas were raised during the Flood, and eroded as the floodwaters drained. But the Himalayas are solid rock, not soft sediments. Being the highest mountains in the world, they would have drained first, and so would have been little eroded by the floodwaters, at least compared to other parts of the earth. If the floodwaters were at most 8000 feet deep, as is implied in the Society's publications, then as soon as the Himalayas rose over 8000 feet erosion would nearly have ceased. And if it were possible for the Himalayas to have been eroded to nearly their current extent in less than one year, certainly all the surrounding terrain should be far more eroded than it is. Yet the Himalayas show far more erosion than the surrounding area, gauged by the depth from the highest peaks to the lowest valleys. Also, the Himalayas show no trace of the great scouring and deposition that should be evident if most of their erosion was produced by a single great flow of water.

It should be abundantly clear that these speculations are not reconcilable with what is actually known about the Himalayas. Either the Flood was deep enough to cover the 29,000 foot depth of the Himalayas, or the Himalayas arose in a short period during or after the Flood, and erosion of them subsequently deposited the huge depth of sediment in the Ganges Plain in that short time. Either way, there is great difficulty reconciling the geology of the Himalayas with effects attributed to the Flood.

The Cascade Mountains of the Pacific Northwest show a striking feature: a series of volcanoes rising in a line about one hundred miles inland from the Pacific coast, from Mount Garibaldi in British Columbia to Mount Lassen in California. The volcanoes are the result of upwelling magma due to subduction of the Juan-de-Fuca plate under the western edge of North America. The most famous are Mount St. Helens, which erupted catastrophically in 1980, and Mount Rainier, the highest at over 14,000 feet. The volcanoes are built on a foundation of the flood basalts that formed the Columbia Plateau, and of older, eroded volcanoes. There are many extinct volcanoes in all stages of erosion. Much geological evidence shows that the volcanoes have been erupting continuously for many millions of years. Old ones grow extinct and erode away, and new ones take their place, often covering up the older remains.

Now, the 8,000 foot maximum depth for the Flood implied by the Society's publications is not enough to cover the tops of these volcanoes. Therefore, either the Flood was deeper than 8,000 feet, or Cascade volcanoes erupted, eroded to their bases, and new ones erupted again many times in the 4400 years since the Flood. But if the Flood was deeper than 8,000 feet, we are back to the problem of where the extra water went. If it wasn't that deep, how can one explain the short length of time for the eruptive sequence of the volcanoes, as well as that of similar volcanoes worldwide? And how did the volcanoes come to be on top of the Columbia flood basalt layers, which themselves flooded the already existing 10,000 foot Wallowa mountains?

A similar problem occurs with the Hawaiian and other Pacific islands. If the Flood were only 8,000 feet deep, then since Hawaii now rises to nearly 14,000 feet above sea level it must have been formed after the Flood. But we have seen that Hawaii is only the latest in a very long sequence of islands that have erupted and eroded away. The problem gets worse if one imagines the ocean basins to have been shallow enough to flood the land to 8,000 feet. A large number of seamounts, guyots, and islands, including the Hawaiian chain, would be above the surface (as the average ocean depth would be lower), since they are higher than the ocean floor by as much as 30,000 feet in the case of Hawaii. In fact, Hawaii is the highest mountain in the world, measured from its base. If the ocean basin were extremely shallow, Hawaii would have risen at least 20,000 feet above the floodwaters. The only alternative, that all these island chains and seamounts formed in the 4400 years since the Flood, is not reasonable. There are islands, whose rock bases were eroded flat by waves to 13,000 feet above the ocean floor, which then sank slowly enough to accumulate over 8000 feet of coral106 on top. There is too much evidence, as I've discussed elsewhere, that these chains took tens of millions of years to form.

Another line of evidence showing the age of high mountains and the existence of seafloor spreading comes from the Great Rift Valley of East Africa. Africa is apparently rifting open at this valley, which is a continuation of the rift which forms the Red Sea. Africa's largest volcanoes, such as Kilimanjaro, are associated with the Great Rift. Other volcanoes in the region have left unmistakable evidence of their long existence in the ash falls that covered animal remains and tracks at Laetoli, near Lake Eyasi in Tanzania. An article in Scientific American107 says about these ash beds, which contained so many animal tracks that they have become known as the Footprint Tuff, that fossils

.... are found mainly in the upper 45 to 60 meters of the beds, which at Laetoli are at least 130 meters thick.... All the ash, eolian and airfall, came from one volcano: Sadiman, about 20 kilometers east of Laetoli.... [The beds are] on the Eyasi Plateau, an uplifted fault block northwest of Lake Eyasi. The beds overlie ancient basement rocks of Precambrian age and are themselves bordered and overlain to the east by several large volcanoes. [Scientists] obtained potassium-argon dates that bracketed the Footprint Tuff. The samples from below it indicated that the tuff there was 3.8 million years old; the ages of samples from the Footprint Tuff itself and from above it clustered closely around 3.5 million years.... In general the animals preserved as fossils at Laetoli are similar in type to the animals found in the area today. Listed in order of their decreasing abundance, the commonest vertebrate remains are those of.... antelopes and related forms.... hares.... giraffes, rhinoceroses, horses, pigs and two kinds of proboscideans (elephants and dinotheres, a form now extinct).

Note that the great thickness of the ash, the radioisotope dates, the presence of fossils of extinct animals, the geologic faulting, and the fact that the ash is covered by extensive lava flows and is itself overlain by volcanoes, indicate that the ash falls were much older than the date of the Flood. The ash falls were able to be traced to a specific volcano, Sadiman, which still exists but has been eroded nearly to its base, and is part of a larger chain that includes Kilimanjaro, one hundred miles to the east and which is, at 19,500 feet, the highest mountain in Africa. Therefore the volcano must substantially predate the Flood, which again points up the problem of how the floodwaters could cover a high mountain. Also, Kilimanjaro was one of the few African mountains near the equator high enough to be affected by increased glaciation during the last ice age. Glaciers traveled halfway down the mountain, and there are only small remnants left today. How could such glaciation occur on a mountain that did not exist until after the Flood?

The Society's writers are not unaware of the facts that high mountains existed prior to the Flood, that plate tectonics explains their formation, and even that mountains have gone through many cycles of creation and destruction. When it suits his purpose, a writer will even emphasize it. The God's Word or Man's book says:108

Perhaps even more remarkable is the Bible's insight into the history of mountains. Here is what a textbook on geology says: "From Pre-Cambrian times down to the present, the perpetual process of building and destroying mountains has continued.... Not only have mountains originated from the bottom of vanished seas, but they have often been submerged long after their formation, and then re-elevated." Compare this with the poetic language of the psalmist: "With a watery deep just like a garment you covered [the earth]. The waters were standing above the very mountains. Mountains proceeded to ascend, valley plains proceeded to descend -- to the place that you have founded for them." -- Psalm 104:6, 8.

The writer of the Watchtower article "The Unforgettable Flood"109 seems to have forgotten about the shallow depth of the Flood, less than 8000 feet, implied in prior Watchtower publications. On page 3 he says:

Five months after the Deluge began, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat, situated in present-day eastern Turkey.... Since the 19th century, there have been numerous attempts to find the ark on the mountains of Ararat. These mountains have two prominent peaks, one 16,950 feet high and the other 12,840 feet.

The writer is not clear about what he means by "the mountains of Ararat," since the Bible is also unclear on this point, but the two elevations he cites apply to the two main peaks of Mount Ararat, an extinct volcanic massif.110 Mount Ararat is a type of volcano called a stratovolcano, like Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Vesuvius. A stratovolcano is built by a series of eruptions of ash, cinders, and lava into a layer-cake structure, usually over a period of at least several hundred thousand years. A typical eruption starts with fine-grained ash, grades into coarse pyroclastic flow deposits, and ends with a lava flow. Mount Ararat has been found by geological means to have begun erupting about two million years ago.111 A stratovolcano cannot form underwater, because the water quenches the normal ash flow and forms distinctive lava formations called pillow lava. Pillow lava forms when water rapidly chills the outside of a lava flow, forming pillow-like segments. If an incipient volcano, which would have formed a stratovolcano on land, erupts underwater, it forms a structure quite different from that which would have formed on land. It forms a large pile of pillow-lava, like those formed at mid-ocean ridges, and no ash or pyroclastic deposits.112 Mount Ararat's structure shows it formed on land.

Interestingly, pillow lava has been found on Mount Ararat, but only in small patches. It can form when lava erupts underneath a glacier, or flows into a lake on the mountain. In Iceland, large mountains of pillow lava formed underneath the glaciers of the last ice age, and can be seen today.

The Watchtower article's writer gives credence to the claim that Noah's ark may rest on Mount Ararat. In doing so he is forced to admit that Mount Ararat formed before or during the Flood -- otherwise the ark could not come to rest upon it. But the geology of the mountain shows it did not form underwater. Therefore it must have existed before the Flood. But this contradicts the Society's claim that the Flood was not more than 8000 feet deep, since Ararat is nearly 17,000 feet high. If the Flood was deeper than can be accounted for by all the water on earth today, we are back to the question, Where did the extra water go? The writer is unaware of these difficulties.

Given that one cannot logically believe two contradictory things at one time, what is the Society's position on these questions? Was the Flood deep enough to cover Mount Ararat at 17,000 feet, or does the Society believe that Noah's ark rests on the mountain?

The Watchtower's uncritical acceptance of the evidence that Noah's ark rests on Mount Ararat is a good example of the Society's poor scholarship on geological topics. Many books have been written about the search for Noah's ark, and most are the product of people who want to confirm their prior belief in the Flood. Some are the product of crackpots; others are written by people who have some respect for truth and the rules of evidence; hardly any are written in an unbiased manner. Most suppress evidence that tends to discredit what they desire to believe.

To see where the January 15, 1992 Watchtower article goes wrong, let's look at each paragraph of the sub-heading "Searching for the Ark." The first paragraph mentions that, beginning in the 19th century, there have been numerous attempts to find the ark on the mountains of Ararat. While this is true, the history of the search for Noah's ark goes back much further. People have been making claims of sighting the ark, or hearing of someone who sighted the ark, for thousands of years.113, 114, 115 In particular, "the mountains of Ararat" have referred to various territories at different times in history, from the large area encompassing parts of Turkey, Armenia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and the rest of the Middle East, to the much smaller area immediately surrounding the Mount Ararat massif.116 Also, many different mountains have been named as the site upon which the ark came to rest. The ancient evidence can be summarized thus:117

1. Which one of the various landing places mentioned in ancient sources is the "correct" one? At present any answer is pure guesswork. The biblical writer does not name a specific site; rather, a vast geographical area is given (Ararat/Urartu), within which several of the proposed sites fall. If the matter is ever to be decided definitely, it will have to be by means other than the ancient reports.

2. Many of the ancient sources not only say that the ark has survived to the present; they also introduce wood from the ark as evidence. Thus, such claims for Agri Dagi [the Turkish name for Ararat] (or any other site) are not unique; indeed, they are precisely what we would expect.

3. None of the ancient writers claims to have seen the ark or any part of it, or to have visited a landing site -- or even to have conversed directly with anyone who has. They only quote someone else, usually ending with the cliche, "It is said that the remains of the ark are to be seen to this day." This they report, even if centuries have passed since the original source.

4. Various groups, believing their area to have been the cradle of civilization, or the center of the earth, point to the most conspicuous mountain in the vicinity as the ark's landing place. For some Arabs in the Arabian Peninsula, it would be Jabal Judi in the 'Aja' range....; for Jews in Babylonia, Mount Nisir.... in the Zagros....; for Jews and Christians in upper Mesopotamia, Jabal Judi in the Gordian/Qardu Mountains.... In Armenia, after the introduction of Christianity and the translation of the Bible into Armenian, it would be Arach or the spectacular Masis -- Agri Dagi [Mount Ararat].

5. Among these ancient traditions, the one associated with Agri Dagi seems to be very late -- likely the latest, since it dates to the eleventh/twelfth centuries at the earliest.

Clearly the latest traditions of Noah's ark on a mountain are merely the newest in a long series of conflicting stories, and are not convincing evidence the ark has survived.

The next paragraph in the Watchtower article describes a claim by an Armenian immigrant to the United States, George Hagopian, as told in the book In Search of Noah's Ark. Various books give various dates, but Hagopian's claim was that sometime between 1902 and 1910, at about ten years of age, he, with his uncle, twice climbed Mount Ararat and saw the ark. He told his story about 1970, when he was about 80 years old. The paragraph says:

On the first visit, he said, he actually climbed on top of the ark. "I stood up straight and looked all over the ship. It was long. The height was about forty feet." Regarding his observation on his subsequent visit, he said: "I didn't see any real curves. It was unlike any other boat I have ever seen. It looked more like a flat-bottomed barge."

The trouble here is that the Watchtower leaves out comments Hagopian made that cast doubt on his recollections. Where Is Noah's Ark says about him:118

His observations, based upon two hours of exploring the ark, include: it was a thousand feet long, six to seven hundred feet wide, and maybe forty feet high; the wood was so hard that a bullet would not penetrate it; it was joined with wooden dowels, with no nails in evidence; no doors were visible, but one could ascend to the top by means of a ladder.

The following discrepancies with other accounts are immediately evident; (1) Others found the wood easy to cut (Navarra, Bryce, Knight); (2) Nouri observed that it was joined with nails, not dowels. Since both he and Hagopian claim to have spent hours inside the structure, such a difference can hardly be attributed to faulty observation or poor memory. (3) Previous visitors found a massive door laying beside the ark (Yearam) or entered through a hole in the side (the governmental expedition of 1883). (4) The dimensions are possibly twice those of Genesis, and thus twice the size of Nouri's find.

For obvious reasons the Watchtower does not present all of Hagopian's remarks. His recollection that the ark was a thousand feet long and six to seven hundred feet wide immediately casts doubt on what he saw, as Genesis indicates those dimensions as possibly four hundred fifty by seventy five feet.

Many other accounts can be found where people claim to have seen Noah's ark. Most can be characterized by this summary from Where Is Noah's Ark:119

Research into this type of evidence for the arks' survival is, like that of the other areas, fraught with difficulties. (1) The sources are often third- and fourth-hand. Years could be and have been spent in trying to verify some of them. (2) The original documents often cannot be found -- if in fact they ever existed. (3) Alleged eye-witnesses have died and thus cannot verify the reports attributed to them, or clarify critical details. (4) The reports are filled with discrepancies, some minor but others so substantial as to raise the question of credibility. (5) A few are expressed in such strident, polemical tones as to destroy any claim of objectivity. (6) Without questioning the integrity of some reporters, it appears that details have been added as their observations were retold.

Some searchers claimed to have brought back photographs of the ark. In every case, the photos proved to be natural formations, or were indecipherable, or disappeared before competent investigators could see them, or the searcher never produced them for evaluation.120

The third and fourth paragraphs in the Watchtower article describe the efforts of Fernand Navarra, perhaps the most famous of the recent ark searchers. He wrote I Found Noah's Ark, among other books. The paragraphs say:

From 1952 to 1969, Fernand Navarra made four efforts to find evidence of the ark. On his third trip to Mount Ararat, he worked his way to the bottom of a crevasse in a glacier, where he found a piece of black wood embedded in the ice. "It must have been very long," he said, "and perhaps still attached to other parts of the ship's framework. I could only cut along the grain until I split off a piece about five feet long."

Professor Richard Bliss, one of several experts who examined the wood, said: "The Navarra wood sample is a structural beam and impregnated with bituminous pitch. It has mortise and tenon joints. And it's definitely hand-hewn and squared." The estimated age of the wood was set at about four or five thousand years.

These paragraphs again leave out important information. The dating methods that put the age of Navarra's wood samples at four to five thousand years are extremely poor.121 A lab in Spain estimated the age at five thousand years by the dark color of the wood, and by how much denser it was than originally. The problem is that wood can turn black in as little as a few decades, and the original type of wood, and therefore its density, is not known, but is at best another educated guess. A lab in France estimated the age by the degree of lignitization, or how far the wood had gone toward turning to coal. This estimate relies on knowing the complete environment of the wood from the time of formation to the time of estimation, which is clearly not possible for these samples. The lab did not give a specific date, but dated it to "remote antiquity." Another French lab, and a fourth lab in Egypt simply estimated the age at four to six thousand years, without publishing the reasons for their estimates.

There were some solid dates obtained through five different labs by radiocarbon dating of the specimens brought back in 1955. These varied from about 1300 to 1700 years old, with four out of the five clustered near 1300 years. Wood Navarra brought back in 1969 gave similar radiocarbon ages. The point is that whatever Navarra had found, it was most likely about 1300 year old wood, not five thousand. Allowing say, 200 years from formation of the wood to felling the tree, gives an age of about 1100 years for the wood structure.

The Society agrees that radiocarbon dating of artifacts less than about 3000 years old is fairly reliable, as shown by the recent dating of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and as reported in Awake!122 Interestingly, this Awake! article mentioned that

A piece of wood found on Mt. Ararat, and considered by some to be possibly from Noah's ark, proved to date only from 700 C.E. -- old wood, indeed, but not nearly old enough to predate the Flood.

So not only is there serious question about the age of Navarra's wood, but his story is not necessarily to be taken at face value. The Lost Ship of Noah said:123

Navarra.... returned to his find several times after 1965. He brought back more wood but at times there remained an air of mystery about where he had found it. Some Ararat explorers and writers about the Ark have suggested that some of the wood he later found was brought from Spain, taken up the mountain and then "discovered" up on the slopes under the ice. It has also been pointed out by the competent Ark archivist and author Violet Cummings (Has Anyone Really Seen Noah's Ark?), wife of Eryl Cummings, climber of Mount Ararat and possessor of the most complete files on the search for the Ark, that on some subsequent climbs Navarra seemed to lead exploratory parties to other parts of the mountain, away from the area he had previously described.

Navarra himself was never clear on the exact location of his finds.124

Much more could be said about finding Noah's ark on Mount Ararat, but the most reasonable summary is again found in Where Is Noah's Ark?125

Where have our investigations led thus far? Are the remains of Noah's ark still hidden beneath the snows of "Mount Ararat" -- Agri Dagi -- in modern Turkey? If not, what is there on the mountain that excites present-day ark-searchers?

We have examined the accounts of the ancient witnesses -- and found there are none prior to the eleventh/twelfth century A.D..... Unquestionably genuine photographs of a boat-shaped object that is not a natural rock formation -- if any ever existed -- are not available at present.... Eye-witness reports have turned out to be unreliable, since they contradict each other in major details.... That leaves the question of the wood which has been brought down from the mountain, reportedly dating from the time of the biblical flood....

Whatever its origin, the twelve-hundred-year-old wood that Navarra recovered is a significant archaeological find, and it deserves further investigation in order to determine more precisely when, by whom, and why it was placed in such an unlikely spot....

What might it have been, if not Noah's ark? Until there is further investigation, certainty in this matter is impossible. In the meanwhile, several plausible conjectures have been, or may be, offered.

1. A chapel, perhaps to commemorate the ark's supposed landing site. We know definitely of two religious structures further down the mountain -- the Monastery of St. James...., located at 6,350 feet...., and the Chapel of St. Gregory, situated at 8,300 feet.... They seem to have been founded around the ninth to the eleventh century, and they were destroyed in the earthquake of 1840. While an additional chapel at the 13,000 to 14,000-foot snow line, where Navarra found his wood, would be more difficult to build, it is well to remember that the Byzantines, at roughly the same time, were erecting chapels at far more difficult spots -- for example, on the jagged rock peaks of islands in the Aegean Sea.

2. A replica of the ark, constructed some time after Agri Dagi came to be regarded by the local population as the landing place. "The industrious monks of the monastery, wishing to further their own livelihood by the tourist trade, may have built something up on the mountain that with great difficulty could be seen and shown to be the 'Ark'" -- so wrote the respected American archaeologist, G. Ernest Wright. This explanation would seem to rely upon the hearsay eye-witness accounts that there is a boat-shaped structure on the mountain....

3. A replica of the house which, says tradition, Noah built on the mountain after disembarking from the ark. The French Dominican Jordanus reports, in the fourteenth century: "In a certain part of the mountain is a dwelling which Noah is said to have built on leaving the ark." But since he goes on to talk of the vine which Noah planted, placed by tradition near the village of Ahora on the lower elevations of the mountain, it is not at all clear that he understood the "house" to be near the snow line.

4. A hut for the use of hermits or climbers on the mountain. Several of these are reported by the Dutchman Jans Struys in the seventeenth century....

5. Timbers carried up the mountain by recent ark searchers....

[It has been estimated that] "Navarra's sample came from a tree about five feet in diameter with a height of about 150 feet." If so, then the total age of the tree would be about 250 years....

If the radiocarbon tests were conducted from specimens at the center of the heartwood, then (using the Teddington [radiocarbon lab] test results as an illustration....) the tree began to grow about the year 780 A.D. +-90. Adding 254 years, it would have been felled about the year 1034 A.D. +-90. Only after that date could the structure on the mountain have been erected. This early eleventh century date would seem to agree very well with other relevant data: (a) the two chapels erected lower down on the mountain about the eleventh century; (b) the earliest literary evidence that Agri Dagi was regarded as the ark's landing place only after the eleventh/twelfth century.

It is curious that the wood was found precisely at the elevation that marks the upper limit possible for construction. It is thus at the precise height, and from the exact time period, which we would expect for an ark replica, Noah's house replica, or chapel on the mountain. And since the perpetual snow line fluctuates slightly from season to season, depending upon the intensity of the previous summers and winters, it is not unlikely that a structure erected just beneath the line would later become encased in ice and snow.

I might add that the eleventh century also corresponded to a so-called climatic optimum, when "Vikings settled and thrived in Greenland, before the cold of the Little Ice Age froze them out. (From about 1200 until the mid-1800s, world climate was colder than at any time since the last deglaciation.)"126

It appears that the Society presents evidence that supports its position of the moment, such as a 5000 year age for Fernand Navarra's wood, but suppresses contrary evidence, such as the 700 C.E. date quoted in the Awake! article, even when it possesses both types of evidence. The Society's handling of this material is similar to what is described in The Noah's Ark Nonsense:127

Ark enthusiasts, like fundamentalists in general, have difficulty in deciding whether they are for or against science, and for or against scientists. When a scientist makes a statement they can use to support their views, they gladly cite him as a scientist. They often regard their own views as "scientific." The Balsiger and Sellier book [In Search of Noah's Ark, Dave Balsiger and Charles E. Sellier, Jr., Sun Classic Books, Los Angeles, 1976. These authors also produced a film by the same name, broadcast by NBC in 1977, produced by Sun Classic Pictures.] furnishes examples. Genuine geologists do not believe there was a universal flood, but the book tries to connect geologists with the belief by using the expression "flood geologists." The book often states that "scientists" or "many scientists" believe things that would support the ark enthusiasts' view (whether any scientists in the field believe these things is doubtful, and it is certain that scientists generally do not). Thus in these statements science is held in honor and there is an effort to identify with it.

But when scientists disagree with their views, the ark people tend to disparage scientists in general. The film states that about a century ago science began to question Genesis by saying that it consists of myths and legends; then the film tries to refute that view by defending the historicity of the Flood and Noah's ark. The implication is that science was wrong.


88 Enrico Bonatti and Kathleen Crane, "Oceanic Fracture Zones," Scientific American, New York, May, 1984.

89 John G. Sclater and Christopher Tapscott, Scientific American, New York, June, 1979.

90 Thomas H. Jordan and J. Bernard Minster, "Measuring Crustal Deformation in the American West," Scientific American, New York, August, 1988.

91 Allan Cox and Robert Brian Hart, Plate Tectonics-How it Works, pp. 268-269, Blackwell Scientific Publications, Inc., Palo Alto, CA, 1986.

92 The Bible -- God's Word or Man's?, p. 113, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., Brooklyn, NY, 1989.

92a Think of the effect on the oceans themselves, having to absorb that much heat.

93 William Glen, The Road to Jaramillo, Stanford University Press, Stanford, California, 1982. Critical Years of the Revolution in Earth Science.

94 ibid, p. 224.

95 ibid, p. 269.

96 ibid, pp. 340-351.

97 Don L. Anderson and Adam M. Dziewonski, "Seismic Tomography," Scientific American, New York, October, 1984.

98 David G. Howell, Scientific American, New York, November, 1985.

99 David L. Jones, etc., Scientific American, New York, November, 1982.

100 Robert S. White and Dan P. McKenzie, "Volcanism at Rifts," Scientific American, New York, July, 1989.

101 Robert D. Ballard, op cit, p. 327.

102 J. Brendan Murphy and R. Damian Nance, "Mountain Belts and the Supercontinent Cycle," Scientific American, pp. 84-91, New York, April, 1992.

103 R. Damian Nance, Thomas R. Worsley and Judith B. Moody, "The Supercontinent Cycle," Scientific American, pp. 72-78, New York, July, 1988.

104 ibid.

105 Peter Molnar, Scientific American, New York, July, 1986.

106 H. W. Menard, op cit, p. 137.

107 Richard L. Hay and Mary D. Leakey, "The Fossil Footprints of Laetoli," Scientific American, New York, February, 1982.

108 The Bible: God's Word or Man's?, p. 100.

109 The Watchtower, op cit, pp. 3-4, January 15, 1992.

110 The New Encyclopedia Britannica, Micropedia, Vol. 1, p. 518, 1991.

111 John Warwick Montgomery, The Quest For Noah's Ark, p. 227, Bethany Fellowship, Inc., Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1972.

A fairly reasonable account of many searches on Mount Ararat for Noah's ark. Uncritically accepts much hearsay evidence, and omits evidence contrary to the author's belief that the ark is on Ararat.

112 Fred M. Bullard, Volcanoes in History, in Theory, in Eruption, pp. 248-249, University of Texas Press, 1962.

113 Charles Berlitz, The Lost Ship of Noah, pp. 15-27, G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1987.

By the author of such books as The Bermuda Triangle, Atlantis: The Eighth Continent, and Mysteries from Forgotten Worlds. Contains much evidence supporting the author's opinion that the ark is on Mount Ararat, but suppresses much contrary evidence. The author apparently made a trip to Ararat in the mid 1980s, but found nothing. Berlitz quotes such luminaries as Immanuel Velikovsky and Charles Hapgood in support of his ideas on the Flood.

114 Lloyd R. Bailey, Where Is Noah's Ark?, pp. 13-46, Abingdon, Nashville, Tennessee, 1978.

One of the few objective accounts, and by far the best, of searches for Noah's ark that I've found. Supplies much evidence missing from less critical accounts.

115 Lloyd R. Bailey, Noah: The Person and the Story in History and Tradition, pp. 53-115, University of South Carolina Press, Columbia, South Carolina, 1989.

Perhaps the most comprehensive study of Noachian traditions available. Contains most of the material from Bailey's 1978 book.

116 ibid, pp. 13-46.

117 ibid, pp. 45-46.

118 ibid, p. 54.

119 ibid, p. 57.

120 ibid, p. 63.

121 ibid, pp. 64-81.

122 Awake!, p. 22, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., Brooklyn, NY, September 22, 1986.

123 Berlitz, op cit, p. 96.

124 Bailey, op cit, p. 119.

125 ibid, pp. 89-98.

126 Samuel W. Matthews, "Ice on the World," National Geographic Magazine, p. 99, Washington, D.C., January, 1987.

127 Howard M. Teeple, The Noah's Ark Nonsense, p. 121, Religion and Ethics Institute, Inc., Evanston, Illinois, 1978.