February 28, 2017

Mike the Geologist: On the Grand Canyon and the Flood (7)

Passing Storm, Grand Canyon. Photo by ccho

Passing Storm, Grand Canyon. Photo by ccho

Previous posts in the series:

• • •

The Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth: Can Noah’s Flood Explain the Grand Canyon?
By Gregg Davidson, Joel Duff, David Elliott, Tim Helble, Carol Hill, Stephen Moshier, Wayne Ranney, Ralph Stearley, Bryan Tapp, Roger Wiens, and Ken Wolgemuth.

We now come to Part 4 of the book; the carving of the Canyon.  Chapter 16 is an assessment of the most common flood geology arguments for rapid carving of the canyon.  Chapter 17 covers the conventional geologic understanding of how the canyon was carved.  Chapter 18 focuses on what we can tell about the canyon’s history since the time of the carving.

Chapter 16 — Carving of the Grand Canyon: A Lot of Time and a Little Water, A Lot of Water and a Little Time (or Something Else) deals with the false dichotomy of the flood geologists.  Was it a lot of time and a little water or a lot of water and a little time as if these were the only two options?  As it is shown later in the chapter, an important third option is left out.

Perhaps the most intriguing question regarding carving the Grand Canyon is how the Colorado River managed to cut a channel through the Kaibab Arch.

image1

The crust at this location bows upward creating an arch that rises 3,000’ above the land on either side.  How did a canyon form that allowed the Colorado River to flow though it instead of around it.  Flood geologist posit that large lakes were impounded behind the arch (when it was uplifted) with water left over from the flood as shown on Figure 16-1 from the book.  They say the lakes contained over 3,000 cubic miles of water; 3 times the amount of Lake Michigan.  At some point after the flood the dam burst and the water spilled carving the canyon in a matter of days.  Now, to be fair, non-flood geologists have proposed a “spillover” model (although at a much smaller scale) that was presented in the symposium on the Origin of the Colorado River in 2000.  The ancient lake in question is Hopi Lake on the figure above also referred to as Lake Bidahochi located in the region where the Little Colorado exists today.  Of course, flood geologists immediately seized upon it as confirming their breached-dam hypothesis.  Although seriously considered for a time, most conventional geologist now reject it as the bulk of the evidence does not support it.  The problem with the breached-dam hypothesis is that extensive large-scale lakes leave readily identifiable evidence by the characteristic deposits that form when sediment carried by rivers flow into a large lake, slows, and deposits.  There is a lack of evidence that these lakes were extensive as claimed, or that some of them even existed at all.  Recent studies of the Bidahochi sediments show that the lake pictured as Hopi Lake by flood geologists was not one big lake at all, rather a series of playas (lakes that seasonally dry up) that were never able to spillover or breach a dam.  In fact, evidence for a spillover or failure point for this proposed lake has yet to be found.

2nd-image

Figure 16-4 from the book illustrates what we should expect to see for a raging flood in soft sediment versus a multiple cycles of seasonal floodwaters gradually incising through layers of hard rock.  In the first scenario sand and lime will wash away much more easily than clay, so the massive burst of water should leave clay layers sticking out.  As the water recedes the weight of the overlying layers will cause the clay and lime to extrude like putty in the channel, resulting in thinning and sloping downward near the edge.  Finally slumping should leave piles of mixed sediments at the base of the exposed embankments.  In the second scenario, rivers should carve downward into the already hardened rock, leaving vertical walls behind.  Erosion of the weaker rock layers during seasonal flooding should undermine the cliff faces (step 2b) and result in collapse and widening of the canyon (step 3b).  The layers should not thin or slope downward near the cliff edges because the layers are solid rock.  Shale, being much softer than sandstone or limestone, erodes faster resulting in the collapse of overlying harder layers and producing an ever widening canyon with shale benches and sandstone and limestone cliffs (step 4b).  Debris from the higher layers will be common on the benches but less common at river level, where seasonal floods wash it away.

So what is observed?  None of the expected features for the flood geology model are observed.  All the expected features from the conventional geology model are observed.  Furthermore, even if the dam water could cut through 4,000 feet of soft sediment layers left by Noah’s flood, by that time most if it would have drained out of the Grand Canyon area and the remaining water would not have enough erosive force to cut through another 1,000 feet of very hard metamorphic and igneous basement rock to form the Grand Canyon’s Inner Gorge.

image3

The inner gorge of the Grand Canyon, a sight that cannot be seen from either rims.

Fortunately, we do have an example of where a megaflood carved a landscape.  We have already talked about Lake Missoula, the glacial ice-dammed lake that spilled out catastrophically over Washington and Oregon.  Lake Missoula may have contained 500 cubic miles of water that abruptly emptied – likely several times as the ice formed, breached, and re-formed.  This megaflood created the Channeled Scablands of eastern Washington, a vast landscape of erosional features overlain on lava rock.  Figures 16-6 and 16-7 from the book show aerial views of the scablands.

4th-image-1

image5-1

So what does a megaflood do when it spills out?  It doesn’t create a grand canyon, it creates multiple wide, shallow channels, which fan out over a large area- not a deep, narrow single channel.  Additionally, note the total absence of any sharp bends or meander loops in the eroded channels. Megafloods spill over the top of tightly bending channels, carving a new channel that cuts off the bend.  Go to the beach (I really want to go), take a stick and cut a meandering line in the wet sand.  Take a 5 gallon bucket and throw the water at the line.  Did the water follow the line and deepen it, or did it wash over it creating something that looks like the figure above.  The landscape of the Channeled Scablands is a compelling argument against a megaflood origin for the Grand Canyon.

image6

Small canyons and gullies carved into soft ash deposited by Mount St. Helens eruption in 1980

When Mount St. Helens erupted on May 18, 1980, nearly a cubic mile of hot pumice rock and ash slid off the north face of the mountain and filled the valley below.  22 months later a small eruption melted the deep snow in the mountains new crater and sent a large flash flood of water and mud rushing into the North Fork Toutle River Valley.  This flash flood immediately began cutting a new network of channels in the loose ash.  These rapidly forming canyons are offered as evidence supporting rapid formation of the Grand Canyon by flood geologists, but little attention is given to anything other than how fast they formed.  The numerous U-shaped small canyons cutting into the ash do not look anything like the single, massive, V-shaped Grand Canyon.  As vertical walls formed in the soft ash, the unsupported ash slumped and dropped piles of loose material down into the stream channels.  In great contrast, the Grand Canyon walls remain vertical at heights of hundreds of feet, with no evidence of slumping and no piles of un-cemented sediment at the base of the cliffs.  The striking difference between Mount St. Helens and the Grand Canyon provide strong evidence the Grand Canyon layers were rock when they were carved, not soft deposits like Mount St. Helens.

So was the Grand Canyon carved in a lot of time by a little water, or by a lot of water in a little time?  But as the book said; that is a misleading question.  If you do the math assuming the average annual precipitation that falls on the drainage area now (and bear in mind there may have been more rain during wetter periods in the past), we would estimate that 61 million cubic miles of water has been eroding the Grand Canyon during the last 6 million years.  That is a lot of water and a lot of time!

• • •

Photo by ccho at Flickr. Creative Commons License

Comments

  1. Some people think that the “Fountains of the Deep” (where the Noahs Flood water came from) were in the earth’s crust, and left fishers in it. (Like in the movie Noah.) That explains why the affects of the Flood weren’t like reguler floods. Other people think te Fountains was more of a heavy mist in the atmosphire. So theres room for discussion on this issue, but a lot of real inteligent people beleive this. Anyway God can make fishers whenever he wants. In the last days God is going to open up a giant fisher in Jerusalim so all the Christians there can jump into it when the Nucular Holocaust starts (cause they remember the Prophesie).

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > but a lot of real inteligent people beleive this

      True, I have met them. But Intelligence and Well-Informed are not tight correlations; very smart people assert all kinds of baseless things.

      > Fountains of the Deep” … were in the earth’s crust,
      > That explains why the affects of the Flood weren’t like reguler floods

      Great upthrusts of water would have made very distinct patterns.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        True, I have met them. But Intelligence and Well-Informed are not tight correlations; very smart people assert all kinds of baseless things.

        I’m a former Cold War Kid Genius who’s hung out in various fandoms for 40 years.

        I have seen the “Intelligence 18, Wisdom 3” phenomenon from both the outside and the inside.

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          And the Charisma score? Best not to think about it… Or, seriously, the results of Intelligence 18, Wisdom 3 in combination with Charisma 18 can be scary. Or, all too often, deadly.

    • In the last days God is going to open up a giant fisher in Jerusalim so all the Christians there can jump into it when the Nucular Holocaust starts (cause they remember the Prophesie).

      …in the OT and the NT, being “swallowed up” by the earth is *always* a sign of divine judgment on those swallowed.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Other people think te Fountains was more of a heavy mist in the atmosphire.

      Whenever someone has run the numbers on that, the atmospheric density, pressure, and temperature needed to keep that much water suspended in the atmosphere yields surface conditions similar to present-day Venus.

      Only way out of that is another “And Then A Miracle Happened!” handwave.

  2. a block from my home
    a narrow creek winds always
    through ages unknown

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      (a) true, it does. Actually it is two blocks in either direction.
      (b) nice, I like this one.

      That stream got buried/tunnelled/contained back in the day so it appears and disappears in various places.
      As a kid it was an object of endless fascination – flowing into and out of those dark tunnels.

  3. God can certainly make fishers whenever he wants. Jesus said so.

    I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

    Noah’s
    effects
    regular
    the Fountains were
    atmosphere
    there’s
    intelligent
    believe
    Jerusalem
    Nuclear
    Prophecy

    At the very least, Dottie, you could benefit from a good proofreader.

    • I’m still thinking: “poe”

    • When I read Dottie’s post I cringed somewhat expecting an onslaught of scorn and ridicule against a sincere innocent. Instead three of our most seasoned ridiculers jumped in with polite respect, and iMonk climbed up a few notches in my estimation. At the very least, RWP, you could benefit from their example. We don’t often get folks willing to brave the clique, and most of the time they are treated well, or at least not badly. Maybe too often ignored. Anyway I’ll buy a round for Dottie and the three stalwarts, and for you as well, Rhymes, if you want to smooth your bristles down.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > Anyway I’ll buy a round for …

        It has been a fantasy of mine for quite awhile to have a beer with fellow IMers. That would be great fun; this is the highest quality Internet ‘community’ I have ever encountered.

        • Come to Minnesota, beers between iMonkers seem to happen fairly often.

          IMonkers? Imonkers?

        • brianthedad says:

          mine too. ATW, you rank in my top 3 imonkers to have a beer with. I’ve often wanted to start a thread asking imonkers their top 3 to share a beer with and the reasons why. Unfortunately, my top three appear to be quite far from central alabama. Also, the potential convo with my wife… “yes, that’s right. i want to drive to the upper midwest to have a beer with someone i know from the internet”… is a bit of a stumbling block. lol

        • >> this is the highest quality Internet ‘community’ I have ever encountered.

          And in my view no need to qualify that as “Christian” internet community. Something like ten years ago when I lived down near South Haven I hosted a gathering of folks from an alternative site called Crow’s Nest. Maybe half a dozen showed up from as far away as Niagara Falls, Canada, and a good time was had by all. I would say the logical place for an iMonk gathering would be Indiana, ideally not during a Polar Vortex and better yet at a non-tourist rustic campground in the summer or fall. We could call it Monkstock. You and I may live as close together as anyone else here, tho my definitions of close have changed drastically with age.

      • Actually, Charles, I thought I had smoothed my bristles down quite a lot. Apparently not far enough. You wouldn’t have wanted to see the first draft. I’m still uncertain as to whether Dottie’s comment is satire or heartfelt. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt.

        • >> I’m still uncertain as to whether Dottie’s comment is satire or heartfelt.

          Yes, it’s the uncertainty that makes for Poe’s Law. If not genuine, it was sophisticated enough to be from our friend Jay, if a bit overdone, and the time stamp would reinforce that, but at the same time it could have been real. So if Jay or other, the goal was to provoke a gotcha, and our response to avoid that. If real, our response is to answer in kindness. Jesus could tell the difference, but we have to, as you say, give her the benefit of the doubt. Either way, it was more intriguing to me than the main debate. Mike the G handled it well enough. If Jay, no satisfaction, if Dottie, no harm done.

      • Well, it helps that it’s clearly a Poe and a joke. It’s the people who don’t understand but choose to attack others that it’s hard to be gracious to. It’s very difficult to not respond in kind.

    • Clay Crouch says:

      really intelligent people or real, intelligent people

      • Clay Crouch says:

        See, even the “smart guy” misses things.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          Typing comments in a browser window does not lend itself well to correct spelling or grammar. Especially if using a mobile device. I believe/hope everyone allocates a mercy-margin in response to those technical constraints.

          • Th thing about predictive text is that it corrects errors, not create them. Sometimes it creates words you never intended. But I’ve never seen it introduce spelling errors.

  4. Klasie Kraalogies says:

    The Missoula event: When the middle one was in Grade 7 her Science Fair project was a re-creation of this. We built a model of the landscape with sand, complete with glacial dam. I got Praxair to donate thin sheets of dry-ice to simulate the dam wall. Then we video taped the breaking of the wall, the spreading of the water, and the resultant mini-landforms. Of course they resembled the scablands.

    That project got her into regionals. If the Canada -Wide Science Fair didn’t have a bee in their bonnet about practical advance (ie how do we make money from this), she might have gone further.

  5. Mike, I am really enjoying this series as I’ve always been fascinated by geology and I have got to get this book. Spurred by your reference to the Kaibab Arch, I ran across an article on the GSA Today website discussing the Crooked Ridge River and ran across this little bit of info:

    “the Four Corners region was lowered by erosion 1–2 km”

    Whoa! That’s some serious erosion! I get site specific erosion like the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley; how can geologists determine that a whole region has been eroded?

    • Before it was a plateau it was a sedimentary basin. The rocks that formed from the basin comprise the thickness of the plateau. As it was uplifted it was subject to erosion. The whole 2 km eroson didn’t happen at once but bit by bit as it was uplifted.

  6. Agreed et al. These articles are great.

    Sigh. “But God said.” tends to overwhelm everything else.

    I’m very, very glad there are pointed refutations towards YEC by Christians out there. We need visible, popular forms of disagreement that specifically address every YEC point from the scientific perspective. We’re working on shoring up the theological opposition as well, so progress is being made and can’t be hidden as well anymore.

    To that end, I was thinking the other day of how YECs often say that it’s not evidence, it’s reading that evidence where people disagree, the whole ‘facts are facts but conclusions vary’ argument. And I was trying to think of a single area where their conclusions that support their view of the world come from that doesn’t immediately start with the Bible, and I can’t think of one. I’m sure there are, but my mind blanks.

    • I think I’ve posted this elsewhere, but this is helpful to me.

      https://isthatinthebible.wordpress.com/2016/11/06/reading-the-fractures-of-genesis-noahs-flood/

    • I was trying to think of a single area where their conclusions that support their view of the world come from that doesn’t immediately start with the Bible, and I can’t think of one.

      Probably because there isn’t one. 😉 It comes down to a toxic combination of two views – 1) that the Bible speaks authoritatively on *every* subject of nature and human endeavor, and 2) that ‘Truth’ (especially Biblical truth) is preeminently literal, transcendent, and non-symbolic in nature. Everything else, no matter how much it doesn’t fit, *has* to be chopped or stretched to fit into that Procrustean bed – otherwise, any surety in “God’s Truth” is lost.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > These articles are great.

      +1

      I am not YEC, and never was, but they are still interesting. They are masterfully written.

  7. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    > So was the Grand Canyon carved in a lot of time by a little water,
    > or by a lot of water in a little time? But as the book said; that is
    > a misleading question.

    That is an excellent example of how the framing provided by a question can obscure the answer. I will certainly use that later.

    • brianthedad says:

      a pastor friend of mine was fond of saying, ‘there’s no right answer to the wrong question.’

  8. After I had experienced a major crisis of faith cir 1990, I began to look for answers to many longing questions. Before my fall, when I was a card-carrying evangelical, I had been taught that questions were from he devil (my paraphrase of what was said). As I was trying to find footing on this side of my fall, one direction I took for finding answers led me to ICR. I jumped in with both feet. I helped to sponsor one of their week-end conferences. I worked as a usher and met all the speakers. I had always liked geology and wanted to make sense of a 6,000 year old earth (which had been taught was the only Christian perspective). I remember as if it was yesterday and it was actually 1993. I was standing in the aisle, as an usher, listening to the lecture about Mount Saint Helen’s blowing her top was God doing a great work (poor souls that died) to show the world how the Grand Canyon was made in a week. As I watched the slides and engaged my brain, I started to get this sinking feeling that I was being duped again. The light bulb was gong off (soft ash vs layers of hard rock with radically different life forms in each layer). We paused and I was to escort people during the “book store break” to where they could buy the books that the speaker had just told them they must have. I just couldn’t do it and wandered into the bathroom and hid out. It took me a few more years to discover people like Mike the Geologist, who taught me to love God with my whole being, brain and all. Thanks for your work. As a post-note, I now live in Washington state and got to climb Saint Helen’s with friends a few years ago . . . lots of ash to the top.

    • Mike, thanks for sharing your perspective, I appreciate it. I read your online version of your book; “Butterflies in the Belfry, Serpents in the Cellar” and followed your blog. Both very helpful in my post-evangelical journey. I’m glad you are finding the time to blog again. I hope your business and home life are going well. Again, greatly appreciate your perspective. Be Well- Mike

      • Mike Jones says:

        I have written mediocre books before, but this one has taken me 20 years of study and 10 years of writing and . . . will be going to the presses next week. At last. I want to get yours to read and share.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I remember as if it was yesterday and it was actually 1993. I was standing in the aisle, as an usher, listening to the lecture about Mount Saint Helen’s blowing her top was God doing a great work (poor souls that died) to show the world how the Grand Canyon was made in a week.

      Can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, you know…

  9. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    OK, so how DID the Colorado manage to get through the Kaibab Arch?

  10. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    I first heard of the Channeled Scablands in a collection of Steven Jay Gould essays. He presented it as an example of Catastrophism when the scientific “dogma” was Unifomitarianism and went into the history and cultural-baggage reasons behind both views. (Gould also taught History of Science at Harvard as well as Paleontology, and between a third and half his essays are on that subject.)

    In harmony with Gould’s principle of “punctuated equilibrium”, it was presented as a RL example that reality doesn’t neatly fit into any “dogma”; in this case, an occasional Catastrophic change in a mostly-Uniformist historical trace.