What Started the Ice Age?

Special Feature

Transporting enough ice and snow to cover the continents is impossible under current climate conditions. The only viable scientific model would require a unique catastrophe—like the breakup of the earth’s crust during the flood—to energize this ice machine.

Geophysicists have a love-hate relationship with “the Ice Age” (the popular term for a series of ice ages that supposedly struck the earth every 100,000 years). On one hand, they believe they can prove that small fluctuations in the sun’s heating over millions of years coincide with the coming and going of ice ages. Yet they can’t figure out how such minor blips in solar heat could cause thick ice sheets to cover half the globe every 100,000 years.

They suggest that other factors must be at play. Perhaps minor changes in the distance and angle to the sun work like a pacemaker to regulate the ebb and flow of ice ages.1 But they can’t seem to identify a mechanism that could take such minor variations and amplify them enough to produce an Ice Age.

Perhaps their models don’t work because they don’t begin with the Bible.

A Catastrophic Global Flood

Genesis recounts a global, catastrophic event that would have dramatically changed earth’s geology, biology, and climate. Scripture says that “all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened. And the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights” (Genesis 7:11–12).

The Flood described in Scripture was so massive that the very crust of the earth broke apart. Our planet’s original supercontinent broke into several smaller landmasses. Those new continents apparently shifted about, mountains thrust upward, great cracks extended tens of thousands of miles, and hot magma spewed up through volcanoes and cracks into the oceans. For months, seawater covered the continents and then retreated from the land. These processes produced so much heat that the average ocean temperatures climbed to over 100oF (38oC), much warmer than today.

This warm ocean set in motion a series of events that would lead to an Ice Age.2

Hot ocean water evaporated rapidly, forming intense storms that dropped heavy precipitation on the continents for hundreds of years after the Flood. As the water evaporated, however, the temperature of the ocean cooled. Eventually it reached the equilibrium we know today. But during the brief period when the oceans were hot, cold temperatures and heavy snowfall on the continents would eventually produce an Ice Age, beginning in polar regions and then rapidly extending over the continents and on the mountains.

Volcanic dust blocked out the sun and kept the continents cold, preserving the ice through the summers. Once the oceans cooled and the volcanoes became less active, however, the clouds thinned, allowing more sun to heat the earth and melt the ice sheets and glaciers. The ice sheets then melted back toward the poles, and glaciers retreated higher up the mountains.

The Ice Age caused by the Flood is a robust model validated by biblical and scientific data.

The Ice Age caused by the Genesis Flood is not a weak, theoretical possibility, but a robust, verifiable event validated by biblical and scientific data.

There’s no need to postulate a feedback mechanism to amplify minor changes in the sun’s heating and angle, as old-earth assumptions require. The high-energy events during the Genesis Flood were more than sufficient to cause an Ice Age. One needs only to recognize that the Bible is a source of historical truth and that a global, catastrophic literal Flood covered the earth a few thousand years ago.

Recent Creationist Modeling of Storms During the Ice Age

New computer technology allows us to study this marvelous mechanism in greater detail.

Under the unique post-Flood conditions, “super storms” would develop that dumped rain and snow at unheard-of rates, somewhat similar to the super-hurricane (or hypercane) that has raged on Jupiter for centuries, known as the Great Red Spot. Super storms, formed under extreme temperature differences present during and following the Genesis Flood, would have produced as much precipitation in days as regular storms do in years today.

Using a high-resolution numerical model developed at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, creationists have recently simulated winter storms, tropical cyclones, and nor’easters thought to have occurred during the Ice Age after the Genesis Flood.3 Each type of storm grew larger and stronger because of the heat released from the ocean.

Precipitation increased by a factor of six in several different types of winter storms when the ocean temperature was warmed to 113oF (45oC). Figure 1 shows the precipitation that would fall in Yosemite National Park, one of North America’s most famous Ice Age sites.4 If the precipitation in each snowstorm increased this much, and the total number of snowstorms increased, then glaciers thousands of feet thick would readily develop in only hundreds of years.

Super Storms

“Super Storms” During the Ice Age (Figure 1)

Molten magma released during the Flood heated the oceans enough to create “super storms” that generated mountains of snow. Computer simulations of winter storms at Yosemite show that raising the ocean’s surface temperature would cause storms to dump six times more precipitation than they do today.

Other simulations have shown how typhoons (called hurricanes in the Western Hemisphere) would behave in the Arabian Sea near Africa’s east coast and hurricanes off Florida’s coast. In both cases, a warm ocean would intensify the storms into massive hypercyclones (greater than category 5 hurricanes). Light to moderate rain fell over all the modern desert regions of the Middle East.

This result supports historical evidence that Israel, the rest of the Middle East, and North Africa were well-watered for a brief time following the Genesis Flood. The simulated hurricanes off Florida’s coast also intensified into hypercanes and changed the direction of storms to better fit the weather patterns that occurred during the Ice Age.

Three nor’easters (storms along the coast of the northeastern U.S. and Canada) were also simulated under warm ocean conditions. These storms matter because they are necessary to draw moisture from the Atlantic Ocean and form an ice sheet in eastern Canada.

In the simulation, all three storms grew immensely in vigor, wind speeds increased, and the heavy precipitation fell all over the Northeast in the pattern expected during the Ice Age. The additional snow from nor’easters explains the mountain of snow known as the Laurentide ice sheet of eastern Canada during the Ice Age.

Rapid Glacial Surging

Critics have said a single Flood-caused Ice Age is impossible because only multiple ice ages could form the complex deposits we find at the edges of former ice sheets. However, recent simulations of the Des Moines Ice Lobe show that ice can surge quickly, forming lobes that can move as fast as four miles per year and leave complex deposits (Figure 2).5 Lobes of ice thought to have taken tens of thousands of years to form are now believed to develop in much less time. Consequently, a single, rapid Ice Age is a likely scenario.

Rapid Ice Surges

Rapid Surges of Ice (Figure 2)

During the Ice Age, advancing and retreating ice at the edges of ice sheets tore up the surrounding landscape and left complex deposits. Recent simulations of the Des Moines Ice Lobe show that the ice can surge very rapidly. Lobes of ice do not take tens of thousands of years to form.

Simulations confirm that warm oceans after the Genesis Flood caused intense evaporation and snow and ice storms during a single Ice Age of short duration. If we use God’s Word as our starting point, we do not need to rely on unknown mechanisms that require hundreds of thousands of years. In fact, there is no scientific justification for those models. Instead, the Bible gives us the big picture that helps make sense of our world.

Dr. Larry Vardiman is retired professor of Atmospheric Science for the Institute for Creation Research. He holds a bachelor’s degree in physics and meteorology and an MS and PhD in atmospheric science.

Answers Magazine

April – June 2013

What unique conditions were required to start the Ice Age, and where does it fit in Bible times? Why did Ice Age animals grow so big, and what happened to them? Also, can you explain why God made more species of beetles than any other animal? Can you prove that Genesis 1–3 is not a Near Eastern myth? Read the answers to these questions and many, many more in this issue!

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  1. J. D. Hays, J. Imbrie, and N. J. Shackleton, “Variations in the Earth’s Orbit: Pacemaker of the Ice Ages,” Science 194, no. 4270 (1976): 1121–1132.
  2. M. J. Oard, An Ice Age Caused by the Genesis Flood, Monograph, (El Cajon, California: Institute for Creation Research, 1990).
  3. Larry Vardiman and Wesley Brewer, “A Well-Watered Land: Numerical Simulations of a Hypercyclone in the Middle East,” Answers Research Journal 4 (2011): 55–74; “Numerical Simulations of Hypercanes Charley and Fay in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico over a Warm Ocean,” Answers Research Journal 5 (2012): 13–24; “Numerical Simulations of Three Nor’easters with a Warm Atlantic Ocean,” Answers Research Journal 5 (2012): 39–58.
  4. Larry Vardiman and Wesley Brewer, “Numerical Simulation of Precipitation in Yosemite National Park with a Warm Ocean: A Pineapple Express Case Study,” Answers Research Journal 3 (2010): 23–36.
  5. J. A. Sherburn, M. F. Horstemeyer, and K. Solanki, “Simulation Analysis of Glacial Surging in the Des Moines Ice Lobe,” Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Creationism, ed. A. A. Snelling (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Creation Science Fellowship, 2008). Note that this simulation did not look at the lobe that later reached down into the Ohio Valley, referenced in “When Was the Ice Age in Biblical History?” pp. 46-52.


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