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The two ingredients required for an Ice Age, cool temperatures and tons of snow, were dramatically fulfilled immediately after the Genesis flood.
In order to understand the mysteries of the woolly mammoth, we need to first understand the Ice Age. This is because the woolly mammoth is a denizen of the Ice Age (see appendix 4). I will first delve into a biblical theory for the development of one Ice Age. We will then be prepared to answer the questions surrounding the woolly mammoth.
Scientists have collected mounds of evidence proving that ice once covered most of Canada and parts of the northern and central United States. Evidence is also found in northern Europe, northwest Asia, many of the large mountain ranges of Eurasia, and high mountainous areas of the Southern Hemisphere and tropics. But the truth is, scientists still do not know the cause of the Ice Age as succinctly stated by David Alt1: “Although theories abound, no one really knows what causes ice ages.” Uniformitarianism has not been able to explain the Ice Age, or events related to the Ice Age. Ice sheets are not developing and melting today so we have no way to actually observe how they developed in the past. The woolly mammoths are extinct, so we cannot witness whether they could survive in Siberia. Large lakes are not filling the deserts of the earth. Animal and plant distributions were different during the Ice Age, unlike any pattern observed today. And, we have not observed the kind of mass extinctions that occurred at the end of the Ice Age.
It is doubtful that evolutionists will find a present process that can explain the origin of the Ice Age or the mass extinctions of large mammals. It is very likely the difficulty in knowing the cause of the Ice Age does not lie in the data that has been gathered for over two centuries but in the assumptions. It is my conviction, and that of many others, that the assumption of uniformitarianism needs to be rejected. I believe it is this assumption and the antagonism of mainstream scientists toward catastrophism that has blinded their minds toward a solution of the Ice Age, as well as for the woolly mammoths. Guthrie,2 speaking in regard to the common disharmonious associations and subsequent extinctions associated with the Ice Age, discovered early in his career:
Looking at the extinction problem through the eyes of a young paleontologist in the early 1960s, I encountered my first important lesson — that the present can be used to understand the past only with sensitive discretion. In fact, much of the past may have no modern analogue.
Larry Marshall3 sums up a book on Ice Age extinctions by saying:
Many chapter authors argue that the old axiom — the present is the key to the past — no longer stands. Guthrie (chap. 13) speaks of the standards tied to normalcy of present as being erroneous when looking at the Pleistocene. The present can no longer be regarded as the norm.
They conclude that uniformitarianism cannot be applied to the recent past — the time of the Ice Age and the woolly mammoth. It is this doctrine of uniformitarianism that has retarded understanding of these many mysteries. Catastrophism offers a more logical and less flawed solution to the dual mysteries.
I believe that we need to revisit the rejected biblical world view, one that takes the straightforward account in Genesis 1–11 as early earth history. This account and many other traditions describe a global Flood. The global Flood, believed by most scientists in the 1700s and early 1800s, was really never proved wrong. Scientists in the mid to late 1800s simply decided they wanted to assume uniformitarianism instead. One of the results of a global Flood would be the perturbation of the climate before it reached the equilibrium we observe today (figure 7.1). It is within this transitional climate that the mysteries of the Ice Age and woolly mammoth find a reasonable solution.
From the description of the Genesis flood in the Bible, we have been able to glean enough information to form an idea about what the world was like during and immediately after the catastrophe. Genesis chapters 7 and 8 record:
In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the second month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst open, and the floodgates of the sky were opened. And the rain fell upon the earth for forty days and forty nights. … And the waters prevailed and increased greatly upon the earth … so that all the high mountains everywhere under the heavens were covered. … And the water prevailed upon the earth one hundred and fifty days. … and the water receded steadily from the earth. … And in the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dry(NASB).
Scripture indicates that much of the water for the Flood came from the “fountains of the great deep.” The deep or great deep refers to the ocean.4 The bursting open of the fountains of the great deep implies the ocean rose up and covered the land or that oceanic or subterranean sources of water burst forth onto the land.5
Monumental geological and hydrological activity occurred early in the Flood. Gigantic earthquakes could have caused large cracks or rifts in the earth’s crust, explosively releasing subterranean water and triggering volcanic activity. By inference, the mountains before the Flood were fairly low, and even if the mountains were above 10,000 feet (3,000 m) the strong currents of a worldwide Flood would have eroded the mountains that did exist. Since the fountains of the great deep are mentioned before the rains, it is likely that they caused most of the rainfall. Rainfall was the second contributor to the Flood waters.
According to the biblical record, the Flood waters increased and covered the earth by the 150th day, the fastest rise likely occurring in the first 40 days followed by a slow rise or “prevailing” for the next 110 days (figure 7.2). (Some creationists believe that the Flood peaked in 40 days, which is the alternative dashed line in figure 7.2.) The Flood waters then receded from the future continents for the next 221 days when the ocean basins subsided and the mountains rose as recorded in Psalm 104:6–9 (NASB).6
Interbedded within the sedimentary rocks is evidence of incredible volcanic activity that has no parallel today. Vast, unusually thick layers of volcanic flows and ash interlayer sedimentary rocks and fit the worldwide Flood paradigm very well. It appears that at the end of the Flood the world was covered by huge volumes of volcanic ash and gas that had spewed into the atmosphere.7 The abundant ash and gas trapped in the stratosphere would act as an “anti-greenhouse” (see figure 6.1). Instead of warming the earth, it would reflect sunlight back into space and cool it. At the same time, infrared radiation would continue to escape the earth.
Scientists recognize that volcanic dust and gas can substantially cool the earth. Most people in the United States remember the eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington State in May of 1980. I watched as a dark “dry fog” spread from Oregon into central Montana where I lived. The darkness lasted for two days. Although I saw it as a major event, this eruption was actually small compared to many during the past two hundred years. The largest include Agung on the island of Bali in 1963; Krakatoa, Indonesia, in 1883; Tambora, Indonesia, in 1815; and Laki, Iceland, in 1783. Large modern eruptions usually cool a region or hemisphere a degree or two Fahrenheit (about 1°C). The cooling normally lasts one to three years as the ash and gases slowly fall out of the stratosphere.
Tambora was the largest eruption and is credited with causing the “year without a summer” in 1816. An unprecedented series of cold spells chilled the northeastern United States and adjoining Canadian provinces. Heavy snow fell in June, and frost caused crop failures in July and August. Even Europe felt the chill that summer.
David Keys8 makes a case that a massive volcanic eruption in Indonesia caused the darkness, cooling, crop failures, and social upheaval that was recorded in AD 535.
The extensive volcanism that would result from a worldwide Flood would have a much greater impact on the climate than in historical times. Volcanic ash and gases from the Flood would probably take at least three years to fall out. Three years would be enough time to start an Ice Age. The eruptions would need to continue for many years after the Flood to sustain it.9 Geologists recognize that there was extensive volcanic activity during the Ice Age. Ice Age researcher Charlesworth10 writes:
… signs of Pleistocene [Ice Age] vulcanicity and earth-movements are visible in all parts of the world.
In the western United States alone there were more than 68 different ash falls, mostly coinciding with the Ice Age. Some of the volcanic eruptions were very extensive.
In the South Pacific, an exceptionally large ash layer from an eruption in New Zealand was discovered. It spread a thick layer of ash over four million square miles (10 million sq. km) and would have darkened the entire earth for several months. This eruption would have caused a tremendous cooling of the continents.
The Ice Age eruptions were much larger than what we have experienced during the past 200 years. So evidence indicates that after the Flood, volcanic eruptions would have been able to replenish the stratospheric dust and gases and sustain the cooling. Since the eruptions were more or less random as the earth gradually settled down after the global Flood, volcanism would show peaks and lulls within a pattern of gradual decline (figure 7.3).
The effect of severe volcanic eruptions has been compared to the aftermath of a nuclear war. Computer models of a nuclear war show dust and soot causing a “nuclear winter.” During a “nuclear winter,” continental summer temperatures can drop below freezing in a matter of days. Toon11 and others speculate with regard to nuclear winter:
Sub-freezing temperatures for six months over the entire globe could possibly lead to extensive snowfield buildup over large areas of the continents. Such snowfields would greatly increase the albedo [reflectivity] of the earth and could sustain themselves indefinitely.
The large eruption in New Zealand is an analogy for the worst nuclear winter models that block out nearly all sunlight all over the world for several months. So, nuclear winter models provide insight into how continental areas can cool enough from atmospheric dust and gases for an ice age to develop.
If volcanic activity is such a good cooling mechanism, why haven’t uniformitarian scientists incorporated it into their Ice Age models? They realize that volcanic ash and gases cool the planet but can’t invoke volcanism because they believe each ice age lasted 100,000 years. There has not been enough volcanism to be significant over such a period of time. Paul Damon12 writes:
… volcanic explosions would need to be an order of magnitude [ten times] more numerous than during the past 160 years to result in continental glaciation equivalent to the Wisconsin glacial episode.
The Wisconsin glacial episode is the last glaciation, according to the uniformitarian multiple glaciation system. One researcher, however, has attempted to incorporate volcanism to start an ice age. Bray13 postulates that a short period of enhanced volcanism may initiate the needed summer snow cover. Bray14 states:
I suggest here that such a [snow] survival could have resulted from one or several closely spaced massive volcanic ash eruptions.
Then he relies on a snow cover to take over and continue the summer cooling for an ice age. Unfortunately, there could not be enough volcanism to sustain such an “ice age” for more than a few years without constant eruptions. The snow would quickly melt when the sunshine increased.
The creationist’s time scale is telescoped, putting all these tremendous volcanic eruptions into a relatively short period after the Flood. It is the short time frame that makes the difference. The atmospheric consequences of frequent eruptions would allow an ice age to develop and be sustained.
Extensive summer cooling of the land is the first requirement needed for an ice age to develop. High snowfall is the second. Cooling alone cannot generate more precipitation, since cold air holds less moisture, not more. This is the major reason why uniformitarian Ice Age theories fail.
In the Ice Age model after the Flood, the abundant moisture needed for an ice age would be produced by evaporation from a warm ocean at mid and high latitudes. Why would the oceans be warm? First, it is likely the pre-Flood ocean was warmer than now. Secondly, if the water from the “fountains of the great deep” came from within earth’s crust, much hot water would be added to the pre-Flood ocean. The earth’s crust warms about 10°F per 1,000 feet (2°C per 100 m) depth. If the water for the fountains came from 3,000 feet (900 m), it would be quite warm. If it came from 10,000 or more feet (3,000 m), the water would have been hot. Third, intense tectonic activity during the Flood and lava flows would add more heat. Earthquakes and rapid ocean currents during the Flood would mix this warm water with the pre-Flood ocean. As a result, the ocean immediately following the Flood would have been warm from pole to pole and from top to bottom. Because of this, the Arctic and Antarctic Oceans would have had no sea ice and, as strange as it may seem in today’s climate, may have been warm enough for a pleasant swim.
The importance of warm surface water temperatures is that the warmer the water the greater the evaporation (figure 7.4). For example, if all other variables remain constant, water evaporates three times faster at an ocean temperature of 86°F (30°C) than at 50°F (10°C), and seven times faster than at 32°F (0°C). So a universally warm ocean would generate a high amount of evaporation.
Would all this heat from a warm ocean keep the high and mid latitudes too warm for the Ice Age? In some areas it would — until the ocean cooled enough by evaporation and contact with colder air. The warm ocean at mid and high latitudes is a key to unraveling the mysteries of the woolly mammoths that will be developed in chapter 14. Although the oceans would be warm, the continents would be cool due to the volcanic ash and dust in the stratosphere. The heat released by the warm ocean and its mixing with the air over the land would result in milder winter temperatures compared to today. The main effect of the volcanic ash and gases would be to cause the land to cool during the summer.
In summary, the Flood and its aftershocks provide the volcanic dust and gases that bring the summer cooling indispensable for the Ice Age. Water from the “
fountains of the great deep” and mixing during the Flood provides a warm ocean. In the mid and high latitudes the warm ocean would cause copious evaporation and produce massive amounts of snow. The two ingredients required for an Ice Age, cool temperatures and tons of snow, were dramatically fulfilled immediately after the Genesis flood. This unique climate would persist for hundreds of years after the Flood as the intensity of the two mechanisms slowly decreased.
Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. We focus on providing answers to questions about the Bible—particularly the book of Genesis—regarding key issues such as creation, evolution, science, and the age of the earth.